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CCUM struggling to help those in need

As funds dry up, so will ability to provide assistance

July 13, 2011
The Crawford County United Ministries assistance program finds itself in the same situation as those it helps: having more need than available resources.

Since January, CCUM has provided $7,000 in assistance — from rent to utility bills to gasoline — to Crawford Countians who are having difficulty making ends meet, but, unless it finds additional funds soon, it won't be able to offer any more help for the rest of the year.

The amount of financial assistance given by CCUM is ahead of last year's pace, when it provided 511 people a total of $11,503 for the entire year. CCUM volunteer Laura Zipp said at least $5,000 — although $10,000 would be better — is needed to get through 2011. She said CCUM relies on money collected in the county during the Salvation Army's annual Christmas bell-ringing campaign as well as contributions from its group of seven or eight core churches and others.

Zipp said the $6,100 from the Salvation Army this year actually is more than CCUM received for 2010, but the need for assistance is more. Also, because of inflation, CCUM increased the amount of assistance a family can receive every six months from $50 to $150, she said.

Deb Rickenbaugh, who is the pastor at Marengo United Methodist Church and treasurer of CCUM, said the economy has continued to weaken, leaving many people facing difficult choices.

"Despair would be a word I would use because you've got the struggle between utilities vs. medicine vs. food and maybe not any income to begin with," she said.

In real-world terms, that means children may be taken out of the home and elderly people may be unable to afford oxygen, Rickenbaugh said.

"I mean, there are some stories that would just break your heart," she said.

Zipp told of a single mother of three teenagers with a monthly income of just $674. She didn't receive food stamps, and, unable to pay her bills, her electricity and water were shut off, forcing her and her children to take showers at neighbors' houses and to cook food on an outside grill.

Through donations, Zipp was able to get the woman's utilities reconnected. She then successfully asked the landlord of the Section 8 housing where the woman lives to get natural gas turned on so she wouldn't have to use small heaters to heat her home.

The final piece of the puzzle, Zipp said, was getting the woman signed up for food stamps, which allows her to use her monthly income to pay her bills and still have some leftover to save.

"It was hard work," she said, "but it was worth it, because I feel like she has hope now."

Zipp said that, while the situations vary, the woman and her children, who went six weeks without water, unfortunately, aren't unique.

"It doesn't seem right in 2011 that this could happen in the United States, but it does happen," she said.

Rickenbaugh said Zipp "has been unique" in finding help for people. She said CCUM has no choice but to take a holistic approach in dealing with the financial assistance problem "because we can't begin to solve it."

While people may receive assistance every six months, most don't, Rickenbaugh said. In fact, she said, many are ashamed to ask for help and are "very apologetic."

CCUM also has a food pantry at Leavenworth, located in the basement of the Community Center. Gail Reyling, who has served as volunteer director since 2002, said its numbers also are up. With visits restricted to once every 30 days, the pantry provided food to 355 people in May and 294 in June, she said, adding that the 3,714 people served in 2010 were 848 more than in 2009.

To be eligible, a household's income must not exceed 165 percent of the federal poverty level. The pantry is open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but persons in an emergency situation may call 739-2476.

"It keeps us busy," Reyling said, noting that eight volunteers share the workload. "It's not a one-day job; it's a whole week."

Although five food banks provide the pantry with food, Reyling said she still looks for sales and other good deals so the pantry has as much food as possible to give away.

"People are hungry," she said. "They need help."

Reyling said that she has gotten to know many of the visitors to the food pantry and understands their struggles.

"You cannot help but get close to some of these people who come in here. It's like they're part of your family."

Rickenbaugh said it isn't unusual to pray with and counsel those receiving food or financial assistance.

"It's truly a ministry," she said, explaining they have spiritual, as well as physical, needs. "There are numbers, but there are individual stories behind the numbers."

Rickenbaugh said there have been "nights that I have wept because we are just so limited."

Reyling said she has seen visitors to the pantry get back on their feet and even turn around and make a donation themselves.

Although CCUM currently has enough funding to keep the food pantry stocked, those funds, since those who donated them designated they be used for the pantry, can't be shifted to the financial assistance program, Rickenbaugh said.

Zipp has contacted various agencies and organizations for funding, and, while some want to help, they either can't or won't be able to do so until later. By then, CCUM's financial assistance dollars likely will be gone.

Persons who wish to make a donation to CCUM may do so by calling 739-2476 for more information. Donations also may be mailed to P.O. Box 133, Marengo, IN 47140. Checks should be made payable to Crawford County United Ministries.

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