Local nonprofits are forced to stretch their limited donations as nearly twice as many families are asking for help each month.
In recent months, the agencies have lowered the amount of money each family can receive and have sought out new sources of donations to make sure everyone is helped.
Nonprofit leaders say more people are asking for assistance as they lose jobs or take lower-paying jobs. And while the agencies have not had to turn away needy families, they have made program changes, such as keeping better track of when people ask for assistance, so that they can continue to help everyone who needs it.
“We’re trying to help as many as we can,” said Judi Seel, chairwoman of emergency assistance with SS. Francis and Clare Catholic Church.
The Center Grove area church spends about $12,500 a year on emergency assistance, which includes paying parts of residents’ utility bills, but it recently had to cut back the amount each family can receive, Seel said.
The church previously gave families up to $150 toward their bills, but with about 50 families calling for assistance each month — almost double the average in the past — the church has dropped the cap to $125, she said.
SS. Francis and Clare was never able to pay residents’ entire bills, because the bills are often in the $600 range, but the lower cap means residents will receive even less money now than they used to.
Families who don’t receive enough money to cover their bills can turn to other nonprofits for additional assistance, but other local organizations say they also are lowering their caps to make sure their money reaches as many families as possible.
Christian Help, a nonprofit in Franklin that helps pay rent and utility bills, started limiting how much money families could receive for the first time last year, and director LaTheda Noonan said that cap could be lowered as more families ask for help.
“We’re getting the same amount of calls, but more for utilities. They’ve waited longer, so the bills are more expensive. We’ve seen them up to $600 and $700,” Noonan said.
Christian Help also does not receive enough donations to pay each family’s entire bill and is looking at lowering the cap from $150 to $100, she said.
Noonan said she knows the lowered amounts will cause families to have to find additional assistance elsewhere to pay off their current bills, but Christian Help also plans to start giving residents advice on how to budget their money so they won’t have to ask for assistance in the future.
“I think we’re doing that more now because people are willing to listen,” Noonan said.
Volunteers at SS. Francis and Clare and other local agencies also are taking a closer look at requests to make sure the need is there, Seel said.
Church volunteers do not check incomes when families ask for assistance, but they now check with local trustees and other nonprofits to see if the residents already have received help from other organizations, Seel said.
She said people typically don’t lie about needing assistance, but the church did find a few families who received Christmas assistance from multiple organizations in December.
“I’m trying to be a good steward of the money that’s been given to me to work with,” Seel said.
Volunteers at His Hand Extended, a food pantry run by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, are updating their records to make sure residents don’t go to the pantry more than they’re supposed to, station manager Mark Crouch said.
His Hand Extended currently keeps paper records of the families that visit the pantry, but with about 30 more families asking for assistance each week, the nonprofit has started moving the records to a computer to keep better track of when residents have visited last, he said.
With the records on a computer, volunteers can check families in faster when they visit for food and can more easily look up when a family has been there last, Crouch said. While residents can go to other pantries every week or once a month, His Hand Extended does not receive enough donations to let residents visit that often and limits families to once every three months.
Crouch said he expected the need to go up around the holidays, but he’s surprised that so many families are still visiting the food pantry each week for assistance.
“This is probably double, at least, what we had last January. It seems to go way down after the holidays, but that’s not been the case this year,” he said.
Johnson County Human Services office also is seeing an increase in need from local families following the holidays and has helped about 100 more families this winter season than the last one, director of program development Donna Taylor said.
Human Services uses federal funds to give families money for utility bills for the entire winter season, usually about $200 to $300 each, and the Johnson County office has helped more than 870 households since the program opened in November, Taylor said. At this time last year, the program had helped 775 households.
She said the organization, which provides assistance five central Indiana counties, received less funding this year than in previous years, but Human Services still has money to give to families this winter season.
“We didn’t see a major cut this year, and that’s what has enabled us to keep going strong,” Taylor said. “Otherwise, would I be more worried right now? Yes, I would. It’s a horrible thing to have people calling you and nothing to help them with.”