Robert, an orphaned kitten at Committed Alliance To Strays, gets a mouthful of donated KMR milk replacement from shelter manager Bonnie Werly. CATS is among the many social service organizations struggling to meet the growing demand of families hit hard by difficult economic times. CATS could use donations of pet food to help families keep their pets. - Bob Pennell

A crisis of need

Five-week-old Robert eagerly suckles on a bottle of formula, while his brother and two sisters look on hungrily.

His whiskers glisten white as he bites down playfully on the tip of the bottle, to the delight of a teenage girl who's passing by.

Robert and his siblings are orphaned kittens who depend on KMR milk replacement, containers of which were recently donated by generous families throughout Jackson County to Committed Alliance To Strays.

"This will really help," said Jan Whetstone, CATS director. "The number of kittens being born will hit us very hard in the next month."

CATS and other organizations are more dependent than ever on donations of everything from pencils and office furniture to canned foods and pet food as they struggle to meet the growing demand of families hit hard by difficult economic times.

Whetstone said she appreciated the donation drive at the local Democratic headquarters in Medford as part of Barack Obama's call for a national day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Dozens of phone cards were collected for veterans, and the Southern Oregon Humane Society received enough pet food to feed animals for a month and a load of gravel to repair the driveway. Local residents cleared out their closets and brought in blankets, clothing and even new socks still in the original wrapper for the Salvation Army.

Many organizations are seeing donations decline while demand increases as people lose their jobs and their homes. Families struggle to pay the utility bills or squeeze out enough money for food.

At CATS, the news has been both bad and good, Whetstone said.

In December, 100 cats and kittens were adopted out, the largest month ever. So far in January, 38 cats and kittens have found new homes, which she said is a good start for the year.

On the down side, donations are off roughly 10 percent for an organization that exists on a budget of $198,000 a year, Whetstone said.

In addition, the number of cats abandoned has risen. "We're still getting calls from Realtors finding cats in foreclosed homes," she said.

Whetstone said her organization has a policy of taking pets back if a family can no longer afford them. Last week, three cats were returned by people who lost their homes.

CATS also is seeing more felines brought in from abusive family situations as the economic downturn worsens, said Whetstone.

"An abusive person goes after the animal more times than you would believe," said Whetstone. "People don't realize that the abuser will take on an animal."

Gary Miller, executive director at ACCESS Inc., which provides food and assistance to low-income families, said he has seen demand escalating and donations increasing.

During the holidays, ACCESS had 261 first-time donors.

At the same time, for the first two weeks in January, people needing energy assistance increased 20 percent over the previous year. ACCESS received 795 inquiries from people needing help to pay utility bills.

Looking ahead, Miller said his organization is concerned about donations declining during the next six months.

"We're all on pins and needles," he said.

At the Salvation Army on Central Avenue in Medford, donations to the store are down.

"What we're really hurting on is the larger items," said Debbie Hopkinson, director of the three Salvation Army stores in the county.

She said the big-ticket items help pay for the overhead on the stores, which have to pay at least minimum wage to its employees. She said a room would normally be filled with couches and tables, but she had only two couches available on Friday.

Her shelves also are barer than she would like.

"We just have less items," she said. "We have more people coming in needing things and less to give them."

In addition to the stores, the Salvation Army has a charitable outlet that gives food and clothing to low-income families free of charge.

Other organizations also are feeling the effects as families cut back.

Jamie Kaufman, program director at Kids Unlimited, said she has noticed more parents withdrawing children from after-school programs at the popular youth organization in Medford.

"I hear daily about a car that broke down, or someone moving in with a relative because they can't pay the rent," she said. "Every day there is a new story."

Families are getting overloaded and don't take advantage of volunteering their time or applying for scholarships to offset the $30 a month fee for the after-school program.

"For us it's trying to get creative about what to offer," she said. "We can suggest payment plans or suggest someone carpool with another family to offset the cost of gas."

Dee Anne Everson, United Way of Jackson County executive director, said nonprofits exist on the generous donations from businesses and individuals.

Her office, for example, is outfitted with hand-me-down furniture from other businesses.

"Nonprofits need people, money and stuff," she said. "Generally, many people have enough for themselves, and they even have some to share."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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