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More villagers seeking help

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Consumers may have tightened their belts this whole past year, but the longer the financial slump continues, the harder it is for those living close to the bone to get by. An increase in the number of people served by a group of local organizations that provide emergency welfare help reflects the increased difficulty local residents are having getting enough warm winter wear, adequate heat in the house and ample food on the table. Especially in a giving season, the local welfare leaders extend a thanks for the generosity of the community and a note that in an economy such as this one, everyone is dealing with the loss in some measure.

“It’s not really about us and them, it’s all of us, or at least many of us, who are figuring out new ways to get our needs met,” Yellow Springs Home Assistance Program Coordinator Amy Crawford said this week.

The number of people who regularly visit the community food pantry located in the basement of Yellow Springs United Methodist Church has doubled since the summer to reach the highest the local pantry has ever seen, according to pantry manager Patty McAllister. In July, the number of recipients went from an average of six regular patrons to about 15–20 people who came to the twice-monthly pantry to get nonperishable food and house and personal care items. Then beginning in November, the number reached 29 regular patrons, McAllister said. On the pantry’s last day of the year last week, 24 people came to stock up before the snow.

Thanks to the generosity and foresight of the local schools, churches, the Boy Scouts, Tom’s Market and other business and individual donors, the pantry has been well stocked, McAllister said. Donors have also been generous with their cash, which helps the pantry to buy non-food items, such as personal hygiene, cleaning and paper products, which are not covered by food stamps.

“I had no idea this would turn into the big thing that it has — and most of the growth has been this year,” she said. “But we’ve never had to turn anyone away from anything, and I’m very grateful for the generosity of the local businesses and the villagers themselves because we couldn’t do it without them.”

The pantry will resume again in January on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, from 2 to 4 p.m. And as always, residents who need emergency access to the pantry in the meantime can call McAllister at 767-1650.

Requests for help paying heating bills, another arm of the informal welfare program, has risen as well this winter. Starfish, the organization that helps residents with heating assistance and other expenses, has also seen a small increase in need. Starfish received an average of one request per month for mostly heating bill aid in the first 10 months of the year, according to Denise Swinger. And just since November, the organization has helped five more people who needed help bridging the gap between their utility shut-off notices and the beginning of funding from Greene County agencies.

The Village utility department has a list of 167 residents who are at least 60 days overdue on their heating bills, which is more than Village employee Gerry Slone has seen in the three years she has worked there. Some of those residents are as much as five months behind, and though the Village tries to work out payment plans that individuals can sustain, more residents than usual are even having trouble doing that, Slone said last week. When people can’t manage a payment plan, the Village refers residents to outside agencies such as the Greene County Community Action Partnership (376-7747), the Home Energy Assistance Program, administered by the Dayton Community Action Partnership (341-5000), the Greene County Department of Jobs and Family Services (562-6000) or the local welfare program.

The Yellow Springs Police Department, also part of the group that offers emergency welfare assistance, has received twice the number of calls for assistance this year compared to last, Police Chief John Grote said. The police collect donations for the Yellow Springs Coat Fund, and last week, like every Christmas season, Grote took a gaggle of local kids to shop for winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves. In a typical year, the police buy coats for about 12 to 15 children, but this year, like last Christmas, the coat fund has supported 20 children, plus several gift certificates to parents of additional children in need, Grote said.

Police have received 90 general calls for welfare assistance, and have so far offered help to a total of 58 mostly local individuals, nearly double the number from past years. Any leftover funds from the coat collection are used to help people who have been sent to collection for failure to pay their heating bills or to buy food or fill drug prescriptions for people in emergency situations. This year, the backlog of unpaid heating bills has gotten as bad as one family with a two-bedroom apartment that owes $1,200 in utility bills from the past 11 months.

“A lot of people are hurting and they’re just falling behind on things,” Grote said. He attributed much of the need to the increasing loss of jobs or change in jobs, which the economy has forced on many families. The Coat Fund, which reached over $4,000, has been especially important this year, given that 100 percent of it goes back to the public.

The Yellow Springs Home Assistance Program, which gets referrals from the Yellow Springs Senior Center, Friends Care Community and other agencies, has also stepped up its services this winter. According to Crawford, the program more than doubled to over 800 home visits last year, and has continued to grow. But that’s no surprise to Crawford, whose own family and many friends have also found they need to adjust their lifestyles to make their resources go further.

“It’s certainly worse this year, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “But we’re just changing the way we live, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

In her work, Crawford helps families just like her own and sees the strength and resilience they all have to help each other and adapt to the needs around them, she said. Her family started growing a garden this year, for instance, and they use the library and cook at home more often. And for Christmas they made homemade gifts, together, as a family. It was a reminder of what truly matters, Crawford said.

“We have so many strengths in this community, and we just work together to get what we need,” she said.

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