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Outreach: Needs rise as temperature falls

Recent cold weather coupled with the current economic conditions have caused a significant increase in help given out by the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry.
The Columbus non-profit organization assists families and individuals with just about all needs, including heating and food.
Outreach says it has seen a significant increase in clients over the past year compared to previous years, most likely because of the economy and high unemployment, but the need for help has increased even more over the past month. In the recent unusually cold weather, many residents have been unable to pay power bills or provide families with heat.
Michelle Reedy, Outreach client services coordinator, says the organization served 1,954 households in 2009 compared to 1,499 in 2008, an increase of 455 households in one year. In 2001, Outreach assisted 1,239 households.
The 1,954 Polk households Outreach helped in 2009 included 4,881 individuals, according to Outreach records.
In December, Outreach served 160 people; so far in January, Outreach has already assisted 102 people. On January 4, the first day back from the New Year’s holiday, 25 families came to Outreach needing assistance, Reedy said.
Reedy says the increase is definitely from the recent cold weather as most of the requests lately are for help with power bills, filling up oil tanks or buying kerosene and food needs.
The cold weather is especially difficult for struggling families as it now costs $305 to fill up a 100-gallon oil tank. Kerosene costs have also risen to $2.99 per gallon and many people are supplementing oil heat with electric heaters, which causes an increase in power bills.
People on fixed incomes, such as people on social security or disability are often coming to Outreach asking for help to purchase enough kerosene so they can make it until their check comes in.
Outreach offers people who qualify a variety of services, including help with bills and free food. The organization also gives out blankets, heaters and firewood.
This year may be particularly difficult for many residents as many clients have either lost their jobs or have had to take a job with less pay.
“Its really hit home this year,” Reedy says.
She says Outreach cant help everybody with all their needs, but the organization provides food for everyone and whatever assistance they can for other needs. The needs currently are more than Outreach can handle, Reedy says.
Of the 1,499 households that received assistance in 2009, 369 had never sought assistance with Outreach before, Reedy says.
If you would like to donate to Outreach Ministry, send your check to P.O. Box 834, Columbus, N.C. 28722.
Individuals who wish to donate should also check with their employer because many companies offer a matching donation to non-profit organizations such as Outreach. A $50 donation could easily turn into a $100 donation for Outreach if a person works for a participating company.
Other donations are accepted, such as food and firewood. Individuals wishing to make such donations should call Outreach at 828-894-2988 for more information.
Volunteers are also needed for a variety of jobs.