WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — The holiday season is a time when many give thanks and give back, and it's that generosity that nonprofits like Matthew’s Hope in Winter Garden count on.

But that has not been the case so far this year, leaving Matthews Hope — which usually collects 40% of its annual budget from donations in the last quarter of the year — struggling to keep up with the needs of the homeless.

What You Need To Know

  • Shelves are getting bare at Matthew's Hope's food pantry and store, founder Scott Billue says

  • He said the nonprofit relies on year-end donations for about 40% of its budget

  • Those gifts just aren't coming in as usual this year, and Billue said the organization has had to dip into operating funds to serve its clients

“Typically, in better times, this whole shelf would be full,” said Matthew's Hope founder Scott Billue, pointing to the lack of food stocked at the organization's food pantry.

Billue said it's still a shock for him to see how empty the Matthew’s Hope Food Pantry is. 

“The shelves, you can see if you look around, are pretty gosh darn empty,” he said, adding that it has been at least five years since he'd seen the pantry in this kind of situation.

“I will tell you, from a financial standpoint, that donations have not been coming in like they typically do," Billue said.

More than 250 people still rely on the food pantry for their weekly nutrition, and it's becoming harder to keep up with the demand, he said.

The number of people who need help climbs about 10% every week, he added.

“I don't think anybody is really raising the red flag on what is happening, and this is clearly a mix of coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic, an economy that is laying flat and a housing crisis," he said.

While Matthews Hope has never had to purchase goods to restock the shelves in the past, Billue said the organization's leaders have been forced to dip into operating funds usually used to keep the lights on.

“We've had to use all our reserves," he said. "We are completely dependent, at this point, on the public supporting us.”

That doesn't just apply to its food stores, but to all aspects of the nonprofit's operations.

"Normally there would be tents, tarps, sleeping bags and blankets, and you can see they are empty,” said Billue, pointing at empty shelves. 

About 65% of the donations that Matthews Hope receives are from individuals in the community who give small amounts that allow the organization to buy items like clothing.

“The individuals are typically middle class, and the middle class have really had a tough couple years now, with groceries being up 30%, so some of that money, when you are paying $300 or $400 more dollars for groceries … some of that money used to come to us," Billue said.

He said the lack of income is forcing the organization to make some challenging decisions.

“If we have to purchase it, it puts us almost in a Catch-22, because now we’ve used resources that were meant to pay for our insurance and things like that, but we want to make sure that we are fulfilling our mission and we want to make sure that someone has pants to put on,” Billue said. 

To make it through, Billue said he is keeping a close eye on the organization's expenses by getting a daily receipt that stretches multiple feet long.

“You know that was a light day, and it was almost $14,000 dollars in resources — and that is just food, clothing, hygiene," Billue said. "It's nothing else. It's not our insurance or our overhead." 

He is worried about what could happen if Matthew's Hope doesn't get more donations soon.

“I don't think I am exaggerating that we could close down," he said. "I think that is a distinct possibility.” 

But he’s doing his best to keep the doors open.

“I do think we will get enough to get through the year, but what happens after that?”  Billue said. 

Billue said he is most in need of food like SPAM, Beanie Weenies and Chef Boyardee microwavable meals for food. 

The organization also accepts cash donations.

Matthew's Hope, or any other third-party fundraiser, is not managed by Spectrum News 13. For more information, go to the Matthew's Hope website for information.