Gas prices have some nonprofits running on empty
Every year, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Red Wing visits about 1,000 students in area schools. The goal is to educate children of all ages about abuse, how to protect themselves and give them resources that can help if they are in trouble.
"We have never gone into the classroom where we haven't had one victim disclose to us by the end of the day," said Emily Baldwin, executive director of SARA.
But this year, SARA won't be visiting any classrooms.
The local nonprofit's new budget year officially began Monday, and there was no money left in it to do preventative work, Baldwin said. It's a result of not only reduced state funding, but also rising gas prices.
"With budget cuts, and the price of gas, we can't do as much outreach," she said.
The nonprofit already had reduced its two employees' salaries by 25 percent, Baldwin said. When the remaining budget couldn't stretch, they had to focus its entire transportation budget toward reaching current victims instead of doing prevention work in schools.
"It's such a hard pill to swallow," Baldwin said.
Currently, the average price of gas in Minnesota is $3.84. Last year at this time, the average price was 40 cents cheaper.
"That's a significant gap," said Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at gasbuddy.com.
Laskoski added that the national average of $3.79 a gallon is "very high" for the beginning of October. He said U.S. refineries not operating at capacity, conflict in the Middle East and a devalued U.S. dollar have all contributed to the high price.
SARA isn't the only local nonprofit feeling the pinch. Faith in Action provides transportation for seniors and relies on volunteer drivers who operate their own vehicles. High gas prices create "more of a hardship, definitely, for those drivers," said Executive Director Lee Neste.
"We have some drivers that used to drive once a week who now drive every other week," he said.
Because Faith in Action drivers usually bring seniors to and from their doctor appointments, the main destination is Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing. With the clinic's location on the edge of town, most trips average between 12 and 20 miles round trip, Neste said.
"Even a trip like that, most cars are talking a gallon of gas," he said. "At four dollars a gallon, these people are giving back to their community."
Still, with about 70 volunteer drivers, Neste said Faith in Action has been able to spread the hardship among a large group and hasn't had to make any cuts to the services it offers.
For SARA, Baldwin hopes that the cuts made this year are short-lived. She said any extra donations this year will go toward getting sexual assault advocates back in classrooms.
"(Prevention) is a core part of who we are and why we're here," she said. "We don't just want to do the Band Aid pieces."
Baldwin said she is looking for grants and other sources of funding. But because many nonprofits are in the same situation, grant money is scarce. Still, Baldwin said she's hopeful they can get the program up and running.
"By not doing the prevention work, it is allowing more victims to slip through the cracks," she said. "I would hope within the next year, we can find more grants or through donations we can continue that program."
Both SARA (sara-mn.org) and Faith in Action (www.faithinactionrw.org) accept donations on their websites.