WALWORTH — The Walworth Community Chest is having difficulty competing for those hard-earned charitable dollars this year.

The local charitable outlet, which supports organizations that benefit the village or town of Walworth, has seen its cash donations drop by almost half.

Over the past few years, contributions averaged about $7,000 annually. This year, that figure has dropped to $4,300.

Janice Peterson, the community chest treasurer, said that while declining donations is nothing new, this year has been the worst decline she has ever seen.

“It seems it goes down a little every year,” Peterson said. “We feel bad when it goes down, down, down.”

That means contributions to local worthwhile causes have to go down as well.

The community chest aims to reach organizations and groups that do not receive funding from the United Way.

Pam Patterson, director of Agape House, said funding from the community chest are used to defray tuition costs for families who otherwise cannot afford it for Agape House services.

“It’s very important, because we do not turn away families for financial reasons,” Patterson said.

Agape House takes in youngsters who have been abused, are addicted to drugs or have been in legal trouble.

Walworth Village President Tom Connelly said that new charities and relief organizations are now competing for the dollars that once went to the community chest.

“I think the charitable market had become very competitive,” he said.

Connelly said part of the problem for the home-grown community chest group is that locals may not know about it or its mission. The village board wants to help the community chest, he said, with social media contacts and perhaps a website.

“We need to help them,” he added, “because they support local organizations, and that’s important.”

Once upon a time, community chests were the main local outlets that collected local charitable donations and then redistributed them to needy and worthwhile causes.

Many such organizations have since become associated with United Way or other networks.

But Walworth has maintained its own community chest, with a board comprised of five members appointed by the village board and five members appointed by the town board.

Letters requesting donations from the community are sent out in the fall, and contributions are collected until early spring, when the funds are distributed.

Gloria Ruskell, who chairs the community chest board of directors, said others receiving financial support in recent years have included the Walworth Fire Department, the Walworth Rescue Department, Walworth Boy Scout Troop, Walworth Girl Scout Troop, local 4-H groups, the Walworth Food Pantry, the Walworth Public Library, and Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills (SMILES).

All donations go to First National Bank & Trust in Walworth, and bank officials distribute checks based on the decisions of the community chest board.

“Money is not always divided equally,” Ruskell said. “The amount of contributions can be based on need.”

Dave Austin, chief of the Walworth fire and rescue departments, said money from the community chest has helped to pay for equipment, such as defibrillators, that might otherwise come out of local property taxes.

Kimberly Good, director of SMILES, said the group has gotten donations form the community chest since 1999. Last year, the group received $900 to help cover expenses.

Neither Ruskell nor Peterson could say how long the community chest has been in operation, although village records indicate that it has been nearly 30 years, at least.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.