More than 18 percent of the county is unemployed. Stanislaus County has the second highest foreclosure rate in the state. Businesses around town are closing their doors.
But with everyone tightening their belts, the tough economic times in Turlock have hit local non-profits hardest of all.
For the Turlock Gospel Mission — which operates a winter shelter for women and children and a free meal ministry during the summer months — even paying for regular expenses has become a challenge in recent months.
“Right now we’re really struggling,” said Jeff Woods, director of the Turlock Gospel Mission. “We had wonderful, wonderful support throughout the whole winter and then when we got to the warmer weather things just kind of dropped off.”
The Turlock Gospel Mission needs help more than ever, Woods said, to keep up with increasing demand from the community.
Last month the Turlock Gospel Mission served more free meals to the homeless than ever before, Woods said. And the Gospel Mission isn’t just serving single men and women — families are becoming a larger and larger percentage of the clientele.
The Turlock Gospel Mission clothes closet is also bare, in desperate need of blankets, new socks, underwear for adults and children, women’s tops, and gently used jeans and tennis shoes. Hygiene products are also a priority, with special need for toothbrushes, toothpaste, travel size soap and shampoo.
Despite the tough times, Woods said he’s seen people positively affected by the Turlock Gospel Mission’s services.
“We're doing well with the guests,” Woods said. “I'm encouraged by steps different guests are taking.”
Some are finding their way back into housing, Woods said. Others are making progress toward getting their lives back on track.
But the efforts could be jeopardized without additional giving.
Other non-profits are seeing similarly slim times, including the Turlock Lions Club. The demolition derby, the Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year, has seen fewer entrants thus far than ever before.
With just about a month remaining until the derby, the Lions club is still accepting applicants — an extreme historical oddity.
“Our entries are trickling in real slowly,” said Carl Mikkelsen, the Lions Club member in charge of the derby.
For what is historically the biggest derby of the Stanislaus County Fair, the Traditional Turmoil, about 60 cars entered in past years. This year, Mikkelsen said he only expects about half the entries.
“People are hanging on to their money until the last minute,” Mikkelsen said. “Cars are hard to afford.”
Mikkelsen attributes the decline in entries both to the down economy and the declining availability of suitable derby cars. The second derby night, Metal Mayhem, has a few more entries than usual, but not enough to make up for the decline in Traditional Turmoil numbers.
The Lions Club is also suffering from reduced advertisements in the demolition derby programs. Some companies that used to buy ads just aren’t doing so this year, Mikkelsen said.
For the United Samaritans Foundation, which has its biggest fundraiser coming up in November, it’s a bit too early to know how the year’s donations will end up. But already the non-profit, which serves food to the hungry, has seen in-kind donations fall this year.
“That’s been down and it’s stayed down,” said Barbara Bawanan, director of the United Samaritans Foundation. “It hasn’t gone back up.”
In particular, the USF has seen food donations decline, directly affecting the organization’s food programs. Those food donations have gone down both from businesses and individuals, Bawanan said, though the falling business donations have a larger impact.
Where businesses before would donate extra food, now they’re being more careful to avoid stocking that surplus in the first place, Bawanan said.
“They’re watching their bottom line,” she said.
One bright spot for the USF could be this year’s iteration of the annual canned food drive on the opening night of the Stanislaus County Fair. Bawanan said donations at the fair have been down in years past.
But this year could be different. With everyone watching their wallets, Bawanan hopes more Turlockers will opt to bring two cans of food on July 16 in exchange for a coupon worth $2 off entry fees.
“All that food goes directly into the emergency food boxes and helps with the lunch truck,” Bawanan said.
To donate to Turlock Gospel Mission, send financial gifts to Turlock Gospel Mission, P.O. Box 1231, Turlock, CA 95381 or call 409-4641. Items can be dropped off with Darlene Piersma at 331 E. Main St.
To register a car for the demolition derby or purchase an ad in the program, call 667-5452.
To donate to the United Samaritans Foundation, call 668-4853.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.