THE groups that support needy people at Christmas are doing it tough themselves this year with charity organisations saying donations have slumped compared with last December.
But as financial donations dried up, more people were giving up their time to wrap gifts, prepare hampers and feed the disadvantaged on Christmas Day.
The Salvation Army's Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal needed 330,000 gifts to be donated within the next week to reach its national target of 500,000 presents. Last year, 461,000 gifts were donated. This year, only 170,000 had been donated since the appeal started on November 14.
The Salvation Army spokesman, Bruce Harmer, was hoping for a last-minute rush of goodwill this week.
''As more people finish their Christmas shopping this week, we hope they will put gifts under the trees and we will meet our target,'' he said.
The gifts were distributed to 300,000 individuals and families in need.
The Smith Family chief executive, Lisa O'Brien, said donations were down this year but the organisation was halfway towards meeting a national $4.65 million fund-raising target by the end of December.
She said many donors had tightened their own budgets due to the higher cost of living.
''A lot of supporters know that if they are doing it tough, then the people we work with are finding it a little bit harder,'' Dr O'Brien said.
''We have seen significant increases in the cost of living this year - rent, electricity and other utilities. That does put extra pressure on people. Once they have paid for all those essentials, there is not much left over.''
Anglicare Sydney research and policy manager, Sue King, said the gap between resources and demand was widening.
''Donations are stalling but the need is increasing,'' she said.
Last December, Anglicare Sydney distributed about $350,000 in emergency relief but expected that figure to grow to $400,000 this December.
While money might be tight, there were plenty of people offering their time, according to The Centre for Volunteering chief executive, Lynne Dalton.
''This is the busiest year I have experienced in my six years with the centre,'' she said.
''When the economy turns sour, our business skyrockets. People think, 'I want to do something but I haven't got much money', so they donate their time and their skills instead of making a financial donation. It shows that they are still considerate and caring.''
Businesses in particular had been keen to donate their staff in lieu of monetary gifts.
''The corporate sector might not be able to donate as much money as in previous years but they are happy to release their people for volunteer work,'' she said.
Volunteer positions for the Exodus Foundation's Christmas lunch had already been filled with helpers preparing festive food for 2000 guests on Christmas Day.