Recession pushes groups to reassess

It would be a shame to waste a recession.

That's how Inter-Faith Ministries' executive director sees it.

Lynis Chaffey is not ignoring the wrenching pain and suffering the economic downturn has wrought. But she says this recession also has provided opportunities for nonprofits and the community.

Nonprofits are being challenged to re-examine what they do and how they help people. The community is being challenged to respond to those in need by giving of their time, money and talents.

"We have an opportunity to revive the giving spirit in everyone," said Chaffey, 55, who spent decades in the business world before taking the helm of Modesto-based Inter-Faith in 2007. "We are building an engaged community. That's a beautiful thing. That's very cool."

Inter-Faith, which operates a food pantry, clothes closet and the Redwood Family Center, has cut its expenses by 20 percent to make ends meet, but demand continues to grow. So the Redwood Family Center is talking with other alcohol and drug treatment centers about how they can work together.

Chaffey said she is reaching out to groups that can help Inter-Faith, instead of looking at building Inter-Faith's volunteer ranks one person at a time.

That has paid off.

One Modesto church is providing volunteers to hand out food for Inter-Faith one Saturday a month, making it easier for working people to receive help. (Inter-Faith is open during the day, Monday through Friday.)

And Chaffey is talking with another church about handing out food one evening a month.

She said this recession, unlike past ones, seems to have touched everyone. Chaffey said that when she speaks at United Way fund-raising events, she asks for a show of hands of people who know someone who has lost a job or a home or has been touched in other ways by the recession.

The rooms are full of raised hands.

The recession's widespread pain could be why many nonprofit leaders say community members have been generous, giving what they can even though their budgets are strained, or donating their time and talent if they can't donate money.

Chaffey's hope is that after the recession ends, this engaged community will take on other problems, making this a better place for everyone, including those who often are overlooked, such as single moms and the working poor.

"If we have people focused on their well-being as well as the well-being of the greater community, we will make progress on a number of community concerns."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or 578-2316.

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