Outreach funds dwindle as needs mount

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cold temperatures and a bad economy continue to strain funding for the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry.
Due to the increased client needs seen last year and this year, the non-profit center to help the needy is having to limit the use of its crisis funds, which provide for heat and power assistance.
Outreach, located in Columbus, assisted 166 families in January, 2009 and that assistance increased by 30 families in January, 2010 to 196 families.
Outreach Client Service Coordinator Michell Reedy, after reviewing numbers from last year, says she expects the number of clients will continue to rise over the next few months. In March, 2009, the organization helped 195 families, so if the current trend of a 15 percent increase continues, Outreach could see over 220 families seeking assistance this March.
The increase this year and last year has come from a variety of factors, including unusually cold temperatures and a rise in unemployment. Reedy says Outreach in the last year has seen many new clients who have never sought help before. Outreach assisted 1,954 households in 2009 compared to 1,499 in 2008.
“There are a lot of hard choices families are facing in this economy,” said Reedy. “We have a lot of people whose unemployment ran out, but they still cant find a job.”
The kinds of people seeking assistance for food, medication, heating and utility bills has also shifted over the last year. Reedy says out of the 1,954 families who sought assistance from Outreach last year, 704 of those households were headed by persons without a high school diploma. Put another way, that means 1,250 of those families had one or more person with a high school and/or college degree.
Last month, out of the 196 families served, only 69 of those families head of household did not have a high school diploma. Of the total, 88 have high school diplomas and 40 of them have college degrees.
Those families also represent a wide variety of situations. Of the total 1,954 families, 460 of those are employed or self employed, 396 are disabled, 208 are elderly and 890 were either laid off from jobs, had pending disability status, or are whats classified as uneligible for work.
“Were just in desperate need for funds right now to continue helping people with their power bills and medication,” Reedy says.
Reedy says one of the struggles of people who have been laid off from their jobs is that it is almost impossible to live off unemployment benefits. She says the average weekly unemployment check she sees is between $260 to $300, with an average gross monthly revenue of $1,290. Reedy explains that the cheapest rent in Polk County is about $450, with power bills ranging from $250 to $300 per month, water bills averaging $70 per month, phone bills at $50 per month, gasoline costs are about $30 per week and after those basic needs an unemployed person will have about $300 left in a month for food, clothing and medical bills.
“These people have $300 left and we havent considered groceries, payroll taxes, car insurance, car/home maintenance and medical bills,” she says, “so theres no way they can make it.”
Reedy also says elderly people are particularly struggling this year because social security checks did not receive a cost of living increase this year although the actual cost of living increased.
Outreach assists families and individuals in need with essentials, but also offers educational programs.
Reedy says she encourages people who are unemployed to go back to school for either a high school diploma or to get trained in another field during the unemployment benefit term.
Outreach also offers programs on budgeting and to help with job searches and resumes.
Outreach gets funding mainly from private donations from this community and grants, including 86 percent from local churches and individuals and 14 percent from grants.
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.

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