The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Need increases in county while aid decreases

Hopeful 2011 brings reprieve

By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — For the past two years there has been a steady increase in need in Madison County, Christian Center interim executive director Peter Lyon said.

“That increase has coincided with the nationwide recession,” he said. “I think the state of the economy will be a harbinger for how it goes this year. As more jobs become available, if the economy improves we will see lesser numbers. Obviously that’s a good thing.”

Lyon said the need at the Christian Center has increased not only in the homeless shelter but for other resources the center provides for individuals and families, such as meals.

But while the need has increased, the center hasn’t seen an equivalent increase in support. He said as the economy took hits, donors were more financially pressed and able to give less and, in some instances, stop giving altogether.

Tim Kean, associate director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Indiana, saw a little better picture in Madison County in 2010.

The need increased dramatically, with Madison County agencies reporting seeing anywhere from 25 to 40 percent more clients over 2009, but the agency saw an equal increase in aid.

“Because of the economic problems we are facing across the country, the situation is in the news and on the top of everyone’s minds,” Kean said. “I think people are more aware of hunger than they were three or four years ago, and because of that, people are more predisposed to think about making a contribution.”

For 2011, Kean expects numbers to increase even more over the drastic jump seen in 2010. There are 130,000 people in Madison County, and of those, as many as 14,000 are at or below the poverty level. But the number of those who are defined as being “food insecure” — not having access to enough food for a healthy life — is much higher in the area, with 21,000 falling into the category.

“We are planning for a strong demand that will probably increase through the rest of this year,” Kean said. “Because of that, we have projected that we will be distributing 10 percent more this year than last year — a record year for us. We hope people will continue to respond the way they have.

“I think the present situation of hunger now seems to hit a lot closer to home for most people. If they aren’t in a situation of need themselves, the chances are that they know or work with someone or someone in their family may be in that circumstance. It wasn’t that way three or four years ago.”

Lyon said changes he hopes to see this coming year include continued and increased support to the agency and an increase in the number of full-time jobs available, as many of the jobs the clients are offered are temporary jobs.

Nancy Vaughan, president of United Way of Madison County, said that in general, nonprofits are all doing more with less.

“I am aware of several organizations that have cut staff, cut pay and cut benefits,” she said. “Many of our organizations depend heavily on volunteer assistance, and United Way is working to increase these opportunities.”

Some examples Vaughn pointed to included child care organizations that are under duress because many people aren’t working, so their attendance is down, and child care subsidies generally do not cover enough of the expense for low-income workers. And organizations that assist with basic needs are at the bottom of their barrel right now since winter has been long and cold, she said.

United Way launched a first-time shared funding pool for utility assistance in October. The partners in the Community Access Network, Vaughn said, were all able to access the funding so that there was greater access for those in need. Since October 15, the agency provided $52,500 in assistance to 378 households. This is assistance beyond the state energy assistance through JobSource, which all of these households also received. Overall, the Community Access Network partners provided assistance — utility, food or other things — to 3,169 households representing 9,186 individuals during 2010, and the numbers are up for 2011, she said.

Many organizations, Vaughn said, are reporting that about one-third of the households they have seen this year are asking for assistance for the first time.

“The good news regarding community support and stability is that for the first time in a decade, the United Way campaign did not decrease,” she said. “There has been a lot of ‘right-sizing’ over the past few years and much more collaboration between organizations of all types. It’s that pulling together when times are tough response in action.”

Contact Abbey Doyle: 640-4805, abbey.doyle@heraldbulletin.com