In an autumn of double-digit unemployment, Birmingham's volunteer heart is beating strong.
Birmingham-area charities report no drop this year in the number of people volunteering, and several say they're seeing significantly more than usual.
At Habitat for Humanity of Greater Birmingham, the number of volunteers in October was up 56 percent from the year before.
Some people are telling agencies they decided to help because they believe the needs are greater this year, while others say they have extra time to volunteer because they're out of work.
At the Jimmie Hale Mission, which runs two homeless shelters and a recovery center, "we continue to do great" in volunteers, said Tony Cooper, executive director.
But he's waiting anxiously to see how the mission fares on the dollar side. Up to 45 percent of his donations come through Christmas or year-end gifts.
"If there is any decline this year, December will really tell us," Cooper said.
At the Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham -- which runs a women's shelter, men's shelter, women and children's shelter and transitional housing -- Tree Davidson, public relations coordinator, is seeing more people who want to do drives this year to collect things like blankets, linens and warm jackets.
"I think people want to help," she said. "We've definitely seen an increase. I think people are aware because a lot have been affected by layoffs. They know that the need is greater."
An important season
In terms of money, the Salvation Army is a little bit behind where it was this time last year, and is facing a 26 percent increase in requests for help, said Maj. Todd Smith, area commander. His group usually gets about 23 percent of its annual giving in late November and December, through the kettle drives and a mail campaign.
Smith said he can always use more volunteer bell ringers, more sites where he can place the kettles, and generous givers.
"Christmas is extremely important to us," he said.
Smith did say his command seems to be doing better than those in some parts of the nation.
"Birmingham is a wonderfully giving community. Those who have the capacity to give have given a little more."
United Way of Central Alabama has had no trouble filling its 622 volunteer slots this year. "I think there is a real esprit de corps in our community -- people want to help," said Drew Langloh, the organization's president.
Financially, he said, "it's a very challenging year. We're currently at 65 percent of our dollar goal, about the same as last year. We've had to work a lot harder to get to this point."
Shannon Horsley, volunteer manager of First Light, a downtown center for homeless women and children, said her volunteer level is strong, though she could use a few more people to serve weekday breakfasts 6:30-7:30 a.m.
"We have always had an overflow of volunteers," she said, including a Boy Scout doing a service project and an artist who will come on Thanksgiving to lead the women in arts and crafts.
No job, more time
But Horsley has also seen something new this year.
"We see more volunteers coming in who say, 'I don't have a job right now; I'm laid off,' " she said. "They want to do something. Some are people with advanced degrees who don't want their expertise to go to waste."
Candi Williams, executive director of Hands On Birmingham, which links people who want to volunteer with agencies or groups that need volunteers, also sees unemployed volunteers.
"One man who lost his job does job searches in the morning," she said, "and then goes and works at Habitat in the afternoons."
A surge of volunteers to help build homes for lowincome families has boosted Habitat for Humanity of Greater Birmingham this fall, said Beth Jerome, director of development.
"The United Way campaign, which uses the slogan, 'That could be me,' is making a difference," Jerome said. "People say, 'I may not be able to give money, but I can give time.' We have about nine houses running right now."
At the YWCA of Central Alabama, which focuses on child care, domestic violence services and affordable housing for women, "we are really holding our breath," said Suzanne Durham, CEO.
Similar to many social service agencies, "we have an inverse relation with the economy," she said. "When the economy goes down, the needs go up.
"We like to say we need your time, talent and treasure," she said. "People seem to have more time to give, because some are out of work. It's the treasure that makes us nervous."
The YWCA usually collects $100,000 in year-end donations, Durham said.
"We're lucky we live in this fabulously generous community," she said. "But we're waiting with bated breath to see how this works out."by Jeff Hansen - Birmingham News