The people Capstone Community Action seeks to help are feeling the impact of inflation acutely. And that pressure, in turn, is felt at Capstone Community Action.
“With the level of inflation especially for food and for fossil fuels, we have far more demand and we’re very worried that we won’t be able to meet that demand,” said Sue Minter, executive director of the Barre-based nonprofit that serves people with low incomes. “The inflation is just crushing folks who live on the margin.”
Capstone is not alone. Inflation is affecting Vermont’s more than 6,200 nonprofits, said Holly Morehouse, vice president for grants and community impact at The Vermont Community Foundation.
That impact is felt not only in increased demand for services from people who can no longer make ends meet but also in federal grants that do not cover the cost-of-living increase needed to retain employees, and dollars stretched for buying food and other goods.
Some organizations are also watching warily to see how inflation could impact donors’ ability and willingness to give.
Meanwhile, people with the fewest means are increasingly at risk, Minter said.
“When you have a fixed income and you can barely get enough to eat and heat your home and both of those double those costs as a percentage of your income, which is fixed, it becomes very extreme,” Minter said.
Capstone, which serves people in Lamoille, Washington and Orange counties, provides food at its food shelf. It helps people get into the culinary arts through training at its industrial kitchen and provides people with federally funded fuel assistance to heat their homes.
Because of inflation, Capstone cannot prepare as many meals as it used to unless it raises more money, said Minter.
The biggest program that Capstone administers is Head Start, a federally funded early childhood education program. The organization serves 350 families in its Head Start program, Minter said.
The cost-of-living adjustments in the program are not keeping up with inflation, she said, which means that it is increasingly hard to retain employees. This year, for example, Capstone received a 2.8% cost-of-living increase for child care workers’ salaries. By relying on additional funds, the organization was able to offer a 3% raise, far short of the 7.7% annual rate of inflation in October.
Health insurance premiums are also rising, Minter said, and Capstone is negotiating with its unions to figure out how the organization will meet its premium increases.
Lisa Falcone, executive director of Mercy Connections in Burlington, is seeing inflation sending more people to seek help from her organization, which relies almost exclusively on grants from foundations and donations.
“Philanthropy is a funny thing,” Falcone said. People give anywhere from $25 to “very big gifts.” The organization is in the middle of its biggest fundraising period, the end of the year, and while she is optimistic, Falcone said she won’t know until January how much money it has been able to get to support its work.
“This month, definitely, is a critical month for our organization,” she said.
Mercy Connections offers a program called Curbside Connections, which delivers food and other essentials to formerly incarcerated women. It also participates as a food distribution site in the Vermont Food Bank’s Everyone Eats program. It offers a community meal on Thursdays.
More and more, Falcone said, she is seeing an increasing number of people facing food insecurity.
“I think we’re seeing more and more people kind of falling through the cracks,” Falcone said.
Sometimes, she said, clients have needs that the organization is not equipped to handle.
She said one of her clients, who was taking classes in U.S. citizenship and English language at Mercy Connections, found herself recently needing assistance with heating fuel but made too much money to qualify for federal assistance.
“She was just literally just a few dollars over income” to qualify, Falcone said. Fuel assistance is beyond what Mercy Connections normally offers, she said, but there she was trying to figure out how to connect her client with people who could.
“I hope that we can continue to invest in the services that are really making a difference in people’s lives,” Falcone said. “These services are extraordinarily important in people’s lives.”
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