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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Community comes to Urban Ministry's aid Community comes to Urban Ministry's aid (August 08, 2001)

Emergency fund-raising campaign off to good start

Last month, Urban Ministry Palo Alto -- a 24-year-old nonprofit that provides free services for local people in need -- announced they were facing financial difficulties caused by the local economic downswing.

A combination of slower donations and an increase in the amount of new people coming to receive aid from the group drove them to reach out to the community. They were aiming for emergency funds of $200,000 to get through months of waiting for government and foundation grant cycles.

So far, the fund-raising has been successful, said Gerry Sarnat, the president of the Urban Ministry's board. Urban Ministry has secured approximately half of the $200,000 needed, although he added the search for funds to ensure the organization's survival has just begun.

"I've been personally extremely heartened how the community has stepped up during this time of need," Sarnat said.

Sarnat reported that four foundations (the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto Endowment Fund, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, and the Flora Family Foundation) have contributed emergency grants. A newspaper advertisement got 75 people to donate a total of $25,000 and a donor mailing procured 55 donations for a total of about $7,600.

The city of Palo Alto also contributed, giving $9,000 to keep rotating night shelters in local churches and synagogues open through September.

Because of the crunch, the nonprofit had begun to selectively trim or eliminate programs to streamline their budget. For instance, they cut the number of bus passes given out at their drop-in center from 40 per day to 20.

Bus passes, according to Urban Ministry workers, are vital to help those in need find work and reach health care, among other things.

Sarnat was initially concerned that more cuts would have been necessary if the funds didn't come through immediately, but so far no other services have been disrupted.

Despite the success, Sarnat noted the organization doesn't believe it would be "financially prudent" to resume the cut programs as this point.

"We're only in the second inning of a nine-inning ballgame," Sarnat said. "It's still crucially important that the community continues its financial support."

In addition to being the president of the board, Sarnat also donates some of his time to administer health care to people at Urban Ministry's drop-in center.

"I want to live in a community that recognizes every human being as having the right to food, clothing, and shelter," Sarnat added. "In a certain way, I feel like what I'm doing is very selfish because that's where I want to live."

Sarnat pointed out that a gift of $25 will buy 20 meals for the homeless and needy; $100 will buy groceries for a family in need for two weeks; and $250 will buy 25 nights in a shelter for someone in need.

To support Urban Ministry Palo Alto, tax deductible contributions can be sent to: UMPA, P.O. Box 702, Palo Alto, CA 94302.

-- Bill D'Agostino


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