Few people like to need help. As a nonprofit director often I will hear “I’m the one who was always first to volunteer!” But the reality is that more people need help every day. The average person doesn’t know where to look. This article may serve as a starting point.
It’s important to know that services vary by city and by agency. There is little to no “one stop shopping”. You may have to go to multiple places to get the help you need. Don’t let this put you off from getting the help you need – at Christmas, or at any other time of year.
Charity Help Source #1 – Your Church
Not just any church, your church. They know you here. They should care. If they don’t have a benevolence program maybe they can start one. Talk to your pastor or benevolence committee. The conversation should be kept fully confidential. This may yield you some emotional support as well as financial. If they can’t help you they can possibly give you a referral.
Charity Help Source #2 – The United Way
Call your local United Way office. They help nonprofits and probably will not help you directly. What they can do is tell you where to start looking in your local area.
Charity Help Source #3 – Local Social Service Agencies
Look in the phone book under “social service agency”. If you don’t have a listing there try “food bank”. If they can’t meet your needs they can tell you where to go. Another listing heading is “food pantry”.
Charity Help Source #4 – Angel Food
Angel Food is a program that allows a family to purchase a box of food for $30 that is valued between $60 and $80. Not only can it stretch your food budget but it’s open to everyone. There are no income qualifications. It is a nationwide, faith-based program. They are online at http://www.angelfoodministries.com
Charity Help Source #5 – Salvation Army, Red Cross
Most large communities have a Salvation Army or a Red Cross. The Salvation Army is known to help throughout the year and at Christmas. Toys for Tots is a program run by Marine Corps volunteers. They help with toys at Christmas. The Red Cross helps in times of national disaster but may help occasionally with smaller, personal emergencies. Look them up in your local phone book or online at http://www.redcross.org/, http://www.toysfortots.org,
Charity Help Source #6- Human Services,
Often called the Human Services, or Department of Social Services, this agency goes by different names in depending on the community. Look them up in the phone book.
Charity Help Source #7 – School Guidance Counselors
Call your child’s school. They see many kids each day and may be able to make suggestions. Also, a guidance counselor can be a great ally in taking care of the emotional needs of your child. If the need is school related (field trip, lunch etc.) they can help.
When you go for help, what to expect.
If you are going to an agency expect a line. The wait times can be long. Social service agencies are often staffed with volunteers who do their best. Still, the wait times can be long. Bring a snack and a book and prepare to wait. If you have children and cannot arrange for a sitter bring plenty to keep them occupied.
You will be expected to keep any and all appointments. Missing one appointment may keep you from getting help or may delay it.
Pay attention to deadlines. Christmas help deadlines may be in early November for toy assistance. If you miss a deadline it’s worth a try to call but know that getting help after a deadline is a long shot. Charities need time to get toys together and to mobilize volunteers.
If you are told to bring something to an appointment bring it. Not doing so can cause you to delay getting help or cause you to lose it entirely.
Expect to go multiple places to get help. Often one agency will help with bill or rent assistance while another one will help with prescriptions or medical issues. Still another agency may help with a food box. If you need help for more than one thing expect to go to more than one agency.
Expect the best but prepare for the worst. Sometimes you may not get the help you want. Agencies do the best they can with what they have to work with. The problem is that nothing is unlimited. If you are told no it doesn’t mean they don’t care. They may run out of funds, supplies, food or volunteers. This may make them unable to help temporarily. If this happens please stay calm. Ask the volunteer or worker for ideas on where to go or what to do. She or he may have some suggestions.
What to bring.
Requirements vary among agencies. Call before you go to ask what to bring. Sometimes you will need a referral from a caseworker or pastor. Some agencies will only ask for ID while other agencies will give you list of items. It is always best to call the agency to ask.
In general, there are some items you will need to bring with you when you request aid:
Proof of residency – a recent utility bill, rent or mortgage receipt may be fine.
Proof of income for every member of your household.
Birth certificates or ID for every member of your household.
Food stamp information.
Dependent children aid information.
Social Security Cards
Proof of legal status
Proof of divorce or marriage
Recent checking account statement
This list may seem long and the task may seem daunting. Getting help may not be easy but don’t give up. More people are in a bind and needing assistance these days. Most people who work or volunteer for an agency are eager to help. It may take a little persistence but help is out there. You and your family are worth the effort it takes to find the help you need.
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