harris_president_message_photoFew of us have escaped the challenges posed by the severe economic downturn of the past few years.

For the most fortunate among us, the effects are seen in depressed 401(k) balances, deferred expenditures, and postponed vacations. Others have been affected more severely – with lost jobs, struggling businesses, or rising mortgage payments for homes falling in value. As discretionary income vanishes for individuals and corporations alike, charitable giving plunges in lockstep. Indeed, these are difficult times for all.

For the blind, however, a serious recession is a potentially fatal affliction – one that exacerbates poverty and increases the likelihood that the gap between need and wherewithal will lead to a tragic result. The horrible truth is that clients of the Blind Relief Fund are dying at an alarming rate, as desperation turns into disaster. One year we lost as many as nine clients in a single week.

The reasons are many and varied.

First, the income of our average client is approximately $630 per month – roughly $270 below the federal poverty guideline issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. Limited funds can only be stretched so far.

Second, many of our clients are plagued by multiple afflictions like diabetes, where blindness is really a symptom. Even though most clients are Medicaid eligible, transportation options for doctor visits and treatment are costly and cumbersome for those with little or no vision.

Third, subsidized housing is rapidly disappearing as public funding shrinks, and few alternatives are available for those with severely limited means. Finding ways to keep our clients in their homes amid familiar surroundings remains our most critical service priority.

Fourth, the crushing despair of poverty weakens the fabric of family and community. The meager but guaranteed income of the blind is a magnet for family members driven by the desperation of unemployment, drugs and crime. It is not uncommon for our clients to serve as heads of households supporting numerous children and grandchildren.

We have worked hard to avoid service reductions. With grant income down sharply, we rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of individual donors. The Blind Relief Fund is unique in that all our administrative and fundraising expenses are covered by endowment income. Every penny we receive in donations goes directly to blind people in need.

Because we receive no government funds, we’re able to operate independent of bureaucratic restrictions and red tape. Unlike other service providers, we’re able to provide help immediately, when and where the need is greatest.

These are difficult times for us all, but especially for the impoverished blind. Today the very survival of our clients is at stake.

Please help us.

Stephen J. Harris, President