May 1, 2009 at 1:00 am

Nonprofits, arts groups feel Chrysler's pain

While the philanthropic repercussions of Chrysler's bankruptcy were unclear Thursday, some recipients of the Chrysler Foundation's largesse in Metro Detroit said they were already feeling the effects of sharp cutbacks and expected grants to shrink even further.

For years, the Arab-American and Chaldean Council, based in Lathrop Village, has received a Chrysler Foundation gift each fall to help fund the council's many community services, which range from job training to teaching English as a second language.

"I really don't expect anything this year," said Nabby Yono, a council vice president. "They (Chrysler) are more concerned with their survival."

But Chrysler Foundation President John T. Bozzella said Thursday that the foundation will continue to disperse funds.

"During this transition and in recognition of the hardships facing so many of our neighbors during these challenging financial times, we are refocusing our resources to help nonprofits, which provide shelter, aid and comfort to those who are most adversely impacted by this economic recession," Bozzella said in a statement on the foundation's Web site.

The Arab-American and Chaldean Council, which last year assisted 500,000 people through 39 centers in the tri-county area, derives nearly all of its annual budget of about $10 million from contributions, which are down across the board, Yono said.

He declined to say how much money his organization got from the foundation, but Gerry Brisson, a senior vice president at Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, said Chrysler has not renewed its annual $30,000 gift -- which he said means a loss of 90,000 meals.

Brisson still hopes to see Chrysler volunteers sort food, as they've long done. "We're sad for the company to have to go through this," he said.

The annual Chrysler Arts, Beats & Eats festival is waiting to see how much support Chrysler, the title sponsor through 2008, can offer this year's Labor Day weekend event. "We remain hopeful that Chrysler will participate in some respect," said the festival's producer, Jonathan Witz.

Chrysler's retrenchment will be felt on area campuses, too. Last year, for instance, the foundation gave $13,000 to Macomb Community College for scholarships for this fall. There's no guarantee the automaker will come through again. "We cannot speculate on what Chrysler's future philanthropic plans will be," said MCC spokesman Dan Heaton.

In March, the Chrysler Foundation suspended virtually all of its giving to arts organizations, canceling anticipated gifts of $300,000 to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, $150,000 to Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts and $100,000 to Michigan Opera Theatre.

Lawrence B. Johnson is a cultural writer and critic. lawrencebj@gmail.com">lawrencebj@gmail.com