The economy is giving charities two big reasons to worry this winter: historic levels of need on one hand, and donors with less money to give on the other.

Fortunately, the spirit of giving at this time of year is still strong, said Major Norman Garcia of the Old Orchard Beach Salvation Army.

“It’s incredible how generous people are,” Garcia said.

The holiday season is critical to charitable organizations and the people they help, and this week before Christmas is especially important. Charities were not expecting significant increases in giving this year because of the struggling economy, but some representatives said Sunday they’re thankful to be holding steady.

The Salvation Army relies heavily on the cash stuffed into red kettles throughout the holiday season at shopping centers and in downtowns.

“Our kettle campaign is really our one public ask to the community,” Garcia said.

The Old Orchard Beach Salvation Army serves needy families in the Biddeford and Saco areas, providing a variety of support, from warm coats to social work.

Given the economy, the group set its kettle campaign goal at $55,000 this year, slightly less than last year.

“Last year was the best we had ever done and we got $59,000,” Garcia said.

So far, donations seem to be running just a little bit behind last year and are on track to reach the goal, he said.

While Garcia said he is thankful that people are still giving, it won’t be enough.

“No matter what the goal is, we’re still not going to come close to the need that’s out there,” he said. “The rough two or three years that we’ve experienced, it has kind of a residual effect. People might be able to manage for a year or two, then their credit is exhausted and the rainy day fund is gone. We’re seeing a lot of first-time people that we haven’t seen before.”

The experience is similar for charities across the country.

Sixty-five percent of charities are reporting an increase in demand for their services, according to a recent national survey by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Another survey by Charity Navigator found that more than half — 55 percent — expected year-end giving to be about the same as last year. Twenty-six percent anticipated an increase in giving and 16 percent expected a decrease.

The average charity, meanwhile, said it raises 41 percent of its donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine, a charity that fulfills the wishes of children with serious illnesses, has slightly exceeded the goal for its annual Season of Wishes campaign, said Kate Vickery, program director for the group.

“We’ve had a real fortunate holiday season,” Vickery said. “We really didn’t know, with the economy, which way it would go.”

And the agency is raising more donations this week, thanks to volunteers who are wrapping gifts for shoppers at the Maine Mall.

The mall provides the wrapping supplies and a small storefront called Wrap for a Reason, and volunteers for different charities do the wrapping.

Make-A-Wish will be at the mall’s wrapping station through Christmas Eve.

Sabrina Craig, a volunteer for Make-A-Wish, said people have been generous and drop everything from $1 to $20 into the donations box. One person left a $100 bill on Sunday.

Volunteers wrapped 244 gifts on Saturday and got $1,046 in donations.

“I was shocked last night when I counted that money,” Craig said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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