If the system that we have had for decades doesn’t work anymore, there’s no principle or a bylaw that says we can’t take public monies.
Feaker’s role as executive director has grown into what he calls “casting vision” – articulating The Rescue Mission’s services, programs and ministries to their donor base, nonprofit community partners, and 1,600 unique volunteers per month. Their annual budget, $70,000 in 1986, has also grown, exponentially. It now covers 98 employees, their main 24-hour shelter, a distribution center, the Children’s Palace, various outreach programs like the former NetReach and current anti-human trafficking and youth initiatives, plus numerous job training programs that last anywhere from 12 weeks to two years.
Until recently, Feaker was able to rely on private financial support to keep TRM moving forward year-after-year. “We send out a monthly newsletter, people jump on board,” said Feaker. “I go out and I speak, we’ll do media interviews (like we’re doing right here) and that’s how the word has gotten out. People say ‘well, what’s your development department?’ and I say ‘local media’. They hear a story, they go report it, people start giving.”
By August 2019 it was apparent to Feaker and TRM their financial shortfall was putting them hazardously close to shutting their doors, completely. “December 2018 was lackluster comparatively,” Feaker starts, “December has always been a very good month of giving. It helps us to get ready for the following year. It gives us kind of a pulse on things. We’ve had just under a million dollars given in the month of December before and I believe we were probably at $650,000 this past December.”
“All year  long, we began to see very minimal giving, both on an individual basis as well as what we would call those larger gifts. They might come in from a company or an estate. So we began to look at what we (could) reduce. We were spending reserves down that we had. Our goal to do everything was about $5.4 million in cash a year. That doesn’t include volunteer support or in-kind donations…What it takes when you put all that together is a hard number to quantify.”
TRM kept the financial shortfall and impeding closure quiet for eight months. A factor in this decision was credited to their donor base – a large portion of whom make small but significant contributions, that portion itself being a substantial part of their revenue base.
“We wanted to hold off for two reasons,” Feaker continued, “we’ve had an infusion of money that came in by talking to our donors. This year, it didn’t happen. Secondly, if we, in January, would have said, ‘you know, we’re starting to slide financially,’ when we still had anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million, the average donor is gonna say ‘whoa, you don’t need my gift!’ That could actually backfire. So we waited about as far as we could.”
Feaker described their course of action as a “calculated risk,” acknowledging that it could drastically impact the end-of-year fundraising efforts of other area nonprofits, including their community partners.
“I contacted a number of individuals, United Way (of Greater Topeka), Community Foundation, some of our partners that we work with,” offered Feaker. “I said ‘hey, I just wanted to let you know what’s going on’ so they didn’t read about it in the newspaper…The potential here is that it puts a strain on the other nonprofits…The (other) option is to say nothing and fold.”
The truth is that the closure of Topeka Rescue Mission would prove disastrous to Shawnee County’s collective efforts in addressing homelessness. Their shelter alone and its capacity aren’t available elsewhere to wit or easily replicated, not to mention the variety of services they offer.
And while this may be the first time in its history that TRM has come this close to closing its shelter doors, it’s not the first time that their services have come dangerously close to ending.