Nonprofits: More local residents seeking help

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

They’re decisions no one wants to have to make &045; whether to pay for prescription drugs or pay rent, whether to fill the car with gas or pay utility bills at home.

But those who’ve served at nonprofits that work to meet basic needs say those are the decisions their clients are forced to make due to disability or economic circumstances.

The number of clients they’re seeing has risen in recent years. For the fiscal year ending June 2003, Catholic Charities’ Natchez office served 269 clients in need of money for utilities, rent or prescription drugs. For the year that ended this June, that number had risen to 383.

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One reason for the increase is the closing of local factories in recent years, including Titan Tire, Johns Manville and, in 2003, International Paper’s Natchez mill.

&uot;We’re seeing more first-time families and individuals come in, and they need help to figure out how the (assistance) process works,&uot; said Martha Mitternight, executive director of Catholic Charities. &uot;Maybe they got laid off and the job they got after that has now fizzled out.&uot;

But it’s incorrect to blame such problems on IP and other plant closings alone, Mitternight said. Many people were already working minimum wage and, with costs rising, are also struggling to make ends meet.

&uot;If they’re working for minimum wage, maybe they make $11,000 a year. Take out $400 a month for rent, then things like day care and gas to get to work, and you don’t have a lot left.&uot;

The result? In Mitternight’s words, &uot;you’ve got people that are one paycheck away from living on the street.&uot;

But at the same time that nonprofits’ costs and requests for help have gone up, however, funding from government and other sources has remained virtually the same and, in some cases, is now requiring a cash match be put up locally before funds are received.

And to top it off, said Salvation Army Assistant Director Janet Trahern, &uot;our capital campaign has been down in recent years.&uot;

That’s why the funds such agencies receive from United Way is so important, nonprofit directors said.

In addition, there’s the fact that &uot;that money is spent with businesses in our area and helps people in our area,&uot; Mitternight said.

But United Way agencies aren’t looking for a handout. Instead, Mitternight and Trahern said they want the public to know their United Way donations are good investments. Agencies are made to put in place stringent financial controls and accounting practices to become a United Way agency. In addition, they’re monitored throughout the year so the United Way board can see where the money’s going.

&uot;Also, many United Way agencies use that (United Way) money as their match&uot; for outside grants, Mitternight said. &uot;When they leverage it that way, the $100 you give could become $700 to provide services for people here. It’s a great return on your investment.&uot;

Those making donations to the United Way can designate their gifts go to specific agencies or targeted areas of need &045; not just basic needs such as food and shelter, but to help vulnerable populations such as youth and the elderly.

&uot;But donations that aren’t restricted, part of them goes to every agency United Way funds,&uot; Trahern said. &uot;Giving to United Way is one of the best ways you can help serve your community.&uot;