Pilgrims' Inn, a mainstay in providing shelter for women and children in Rock Hill, is struggling with a sharp drop in donations.
"We are stable and not in danger of closing or paring back programs yet, but if we don't see a significant increase in donations soon, we could come to that point," director Susan Dean said in an e-mail Friday.
The problem has intensified in the past six months.
Businesses that supported Pilgrims' Inn in the past cut back or stopped, Dean said.
Some individual donors said their own hardships left them unable to give any longer.
It's a source of worry for the nonprofit on West Main Street, which relies on private donations for 70 percent of its budget.
State and federal grant money remains stable, Dean said, but needs continue to rise.
Working families drop off their children at the Pilgrims' Inn child care center, which serves 35 to 40 children per year.
Other families live independently in 10 transitional apartments at Tricia's Court.
Many clients can't get into other shelters because of mental health issues.
"For many of the folks we help, we are literally the last line of defense between them and the streets," Dean said.
With Rock Hill's unemployment rate at more than 20 percent, more families are struggling to pay for food and cope with bills.
Other social agencies face similar challenges. Family Promise of York County - formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality Network - had to scramble last year after losing a $50,000 grant.
"The last two years have been awful for us," said Family Promise director Jennifer Coye. "This year, when we did an appeal letter (for donations), we got like a quarter of what we did in 2009.
"People aren't talking about the economy as much, but it's still bad."
Pilgrims' Inn was the vision of Tricia Kuhlkin, who founded the nonprofit in an office at The Oratory and watched it grow into one of Rock Hill's best known outreach groups.
"The Inn has a proven track record of helping families overcome poverty and achieve financial independence," board chairman Stephen Cox said.
In 1981, Kuhlkin was a widow with five young children. Her husband, Bob, died the year before after a long illness. She experienced what it was like to be poor.
Every Christmas, Pilgrims' Inn provides gifts for its client families, who do not register for other Christmas drives such as Toys for Happiness.
All families have been adopted for the season and are waiting for "adopters" to bring in their gifts.
But Dean worries about how she'll meet needs after the new year.
"We are hoping that by making folks aware that we are struggling this season," she said, "they will once again respond generously."
Want to help?
Donations can be mailed to Pilgrims' Inn at PO Box 11328, Rock Hill, S.C. 29731.
For more information, visit the website at pilgrimsinn.org or call 803-327-4227.