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High gas prices hit charities hard

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Kai Ryssdal: Oil lost 4 bucks today, down to $134 or so a barrel. Part of that could have been the Saudi oil minister. He suggested a high level get-together between producers and consumers to talk about those rising prices.

Gas went the other way to an all-time high average nationwide of $4.04 a gallon. That’s 10 percent — about 40 cents — higher than it was just one month ago.

The spike in prices is hurting corporate profits and fueling job layoffs and Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner reports it’s also making a big dent in volunteerism around the country.

Sarah Gardner: Enid Borden is worried — very worried. She’s president of the Meals on Wheels Association of America.

Enid Borden: We are in a crisis situation now.

Volunteers for Meals and Wheels drive their own cars to deliver over a million meals a day to homebound seniors. These days, the meals and the wheels are more expensive.

A recent survey showed at least 58 percent of the charity’s local programs have lost volunteers due to high gas prices. Borden says many of those were seniors on fixed incomes themselves.

Borden: And so they realize that they have to make a decision for their own lives: “Do I eat or do I go and volunteer and use that precious gasoline?”

Borden says volunteer shortages have meant also cutting some delivery routes. She blamed two senior deaths on those cuts.

Dennis Brady, a Meals on Wheels board member in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, says his local program is struggling to help its volunteer drivers.

Dennis Brady: We’ve tried to compensate them a little bit with gift cards for gasoline. We had a little bit of extra money left in our budget and we felt that this was a good use for it.

$4 gas is hurting other non profits too. Stephanie Spradling at Cox Health Hospitals in Springfield, Missouri says they’ve lost three volunteers recently.

Stephanie Spradling: This was a hard decision for the volunteers to make because they don’t work for a paycheck, they work for the satisfaction of helping others.

The IRS does allow volunteers to deduct mileage on their tax returns, but that rate hasn’t budged in years. The charity mileage rate is still 14 cents a mile. That compares to a business rate of about 50 cents.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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