We're getting hit hard by more requests for financial assistance at the church. After the hottest summer on record in the southeast all the power bills are coming due. The utility companies have run out of patience. People are getting desperate. More people who have minimum wage jobs are now unable to pay their power bill and their rent. And more people are working those jobs after they have lost a better paying position.
Over the last three years the wave of requests has increased each year. I can remember thinking when it first hit that it was awful as folk lost jobs and homes. The middle class got squeezed hard. The poor got poorer. More people fighting over fewer jobs is a tough recipe.
Then two years ago it seemed like it intensified again. The requests hit a new level with even more people looking for help. More middle class and professional types found themselves in situations they'd never encountered before and had never worried about. Foreclosures and "walk aways" in middle class neighborhoods change the values of existing homes so that what starts as a reasonable investment 5 years ago is now "underwater."
How long can it go on? Now I'm beginning to wonder if this will take years to get through. Or is it perhaps the "new normal?"
In the last month it seems like we've hit yet another level of requests for financial help. I get more interruptions each day with the phone call or walk in. I always ask about family, church, anyone who can help. They've already gone to those sources and are now more desperate. There's more shame, more guilt, more despair, more tears and trembling.
Even though we've tried to use our money wisely and send most of it with local organizations that specialize in helping folk we find more people are falling "in the gaps." If you are a single adult with no children, or if you aren't yet in the elderly category, and if you don't have a disability... well you better not go through a divorce, or lose insurance, or lose a job for long, or have any sort of emergency with your vehicle or some big price tag item in your life.
Tough times seem to be getting tougher. While many church folk are extremely generous and give to such "compassion concerns" it seems like the numbers requesting assistance just continue to grow. In Augusta/Richmond County GA the estimates based on census data say 21% of the population makes less than $25,000 a year. That's 10,738 households.
While a good 24% of the population in Richmond County gives over $200 per year to a church, not all churches help with such requests. The local United Methodist Children's Home office assists families in need, and saw an 11% increase in requests for assistance the last fiscal year (ending September) while experiencing a decrease of available funds. I heard of another social service group that had what was, in the past, a funding amount for 3 years that was used in 18 months due to the increased need. Similar stories are shared from other partner groups as well. Add to this that state and federal government are sharing less funding for such social needs and it's a nasty community drama being played out.
Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta makes use of churches to house homeless families and provide the necessary support services to help a family stabilize and return to housing and independence. Currently there are 156 families already qualified to enter the program and on the waiting list! The current needs and request for assistance are staggering.
How does your church or nonprofit ministry meet the needs in the community with less available funding? Most organizations have gone from streamlining 3 years ago, to cutting positions and ministries, and are merely hoping to survive. How do you deal with more requests for assistance when there is less funding available? How can we best stabilize families and communities even as there is less funding available?
I'm recalling those New Testament miracle stories when the people would gather their meager resources, Jesus in their midst would offer a blessing, and the needs of the crowds would be met. Lord, let that happen again today as your Kingdom seeks to be expressed on earth in these tough days!