Outreach seeks help to avoid cutbacks in services

Published 9:16 am Monday, July 14, 2008

After a disappointing fund drive in June, Thermal Belt Outreach is facing possible cutbacks in services to Polk County families in crisis.

Thermal Belt Outreach is a non-profit social service agency providing emergency assistance with food, utilities, fuel, transportation and prescriptions as well as assistance with affordable housing, dental care and health care. It was founded in 1991 by Eloise Thwing, who remains the executive director.

&dquo;In 17 years of operation, we have had ups and downs, but we have always been able to move along without any great problem. Our mission is to assist clients to become self sufficient and help them build up some quality of life.&dquo;

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The agency operates with four full-time and three part-time employees plus 125 volunteers who assist the staff in daily operations.

To keep all this going, Outreach undertakes one fundraising appeal each June and includes donation envelopes with three additional newsletters throughout the year. The annual fund drive in June realized only 50 percent of what is normally received.

&dquo;Everyone is hurting. Our revenue has dipped right down, likely due to the suffering national economy. Since we receive no federal, state, or county funds, we have to depend on donations.

&dquo;Grants and donations for specific programs are very much appreciated, but what we need is unrestricted funds that can be used to meet clients&squo; needs,&dquo; Thwing said. &dquo;If general fund revenues continue to dry up, Outreach will have to cut its assistance. We have already cut gas assistance down to nearly nothing, just enough to help people get to work.&dquo; &bsp;

Aside from fundraising efforts, there are some special events held each year that help Outreach&squo;s&bsp; bottom line.

The last thing to be cut would be food assistance.

&dquo;Refrigerators in many homes are practically empty. It&squo;s true. Some children go to bed hungry or they may have had crackers and peanut butter. We want to continue to provide meat, eggs, cheese, bread ‐ a healthy diet, not just cheap items.&dquo;

The food comes from the MANNA food Bank in Asheville and what they cannot provide, they purchase from IGA in Tryon at a discount.

Thwing said she believes the economic stimulus checks may have helped some during the last few months, but it is not the answer to the overall problem and expects many of those who were helped by the tax rebate to be back in upcoming months. &bsp;

&dquo;Even if the number of people requesting assistance remained the same, the cost of everything has gone up. The job market has dropped. Who can afford to take a lower paying job in Spartanburg? Single mothers pay for day care and gas to get to the job and there is nothing left. There is no day care for second and third shift workers. Folks want to work, but some just can&squo;t.

&dquo;One of our clients was making $300 every two weeks and that&squo;s been cut to $210 every two weeks. Many are trying very hard to take care of children and the expenses they have.&dquo;

When assistance is given, it is almost always a share, not the total amount. For example, if a client comes in for help with a $100 electric bill, Outreach will collect $25 from the client toward the bill and pay the remaining $75 from its funds, paid directly to the utility company.

&dquo;We don&squo;t believe in just giving a hand out. We take an individual and help them build up their lives. We have had very few abuse us. They are honest with us and know for sure we will help them if we can. They are comfortable with us,&dquo; Thwing said.

&dquo;Helping the needy in a community is important work. We have various economic levels in Polk County and they are a very important part of the community.&bsp; At least what we do puts them on a little different level, makes better citizens of them. The number of people in need is coming down due to our efforts. No one in Polk County is sleeping under bridges. The police bring them to us and we put them up at the Days Inn and assist them to an area shelter, in Spartanburg or Hendersonville.&dquo;

Those facing financial crisis have a future and Outreach workers are rewarded by knowing they helped families through a rough time that otherwise might have ruined them.

&dquo;One family we helped for about six months with the mortgage and bills. The couple had health problems and they received Medicaid after a few months. We also helped them get their mortgage refinanced. The Medicaid payment was retroactive and the client came in and offered to pay us back. I told him to put it in a savings account for any future needs.&dquo;

But, as the economy turns and people need assistance, Outreach will not be able to provide it this year unless donations start to flow more freely.

&dquo;We need money,&dquo; Thwing said. &dquo;A large donation would be wonderful, but any donation is gladly accepted. I have great faith that we will come through this.&dquo;

Eloise Thwing is available to give tours of the Thermal Belt Outreach facilities or to speak to local clubs and organizations.

If you would like to contact Outreach or make a donation, you may call (828) 894-2988 or send your donations to P.O. Box 834, Columbus, N.C. 28722.