Needs of the needy are here, more than ever

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Gabe Kapinus, of Wauzeka, is the son of Crawford County Salvation Army Coordinator Jen Kapinus. For years, their entire family has been ringing the bell to raise funds for the organization, which distributes assistance to local people in need. (Submitted photo)

By Correne Martin

Most of us don’t notice. But Crawford County has a substantial, growing population of working poor people.

They work hard nearly every day. They struggle. They face hard times. They’re ashamed and afraid to reach out for help. They’re our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, the parents of other kids at our schools. Whether they’re living in a home with mounting debt, or they’re actually homeless, there are many “households” in desperate need in Crawford County.

According to the Crawford County Salvation Army, at one point this summer, there were 19 homeless children being assisted by the organization.

“We are providing ongoing case management to those families who continue to need assistance,” Coordinator Jen Kapinus said.

Also, this past year, the Salvation Army helped 16 families simply stay in their homes. Food was provided to 25 families in need. Eighteen families were helped to avoid utility disconnection. Fifteen people received clothing assistance. And, at Christmas time, 179 kids were given toys, clothes and food. Twelve families with kids received winter clothing.

“These statistics are very real,” Kapinus said. “It’s very sad. I wish we could help more.”

To further explain the need and the kinds of situations Crawford County’s own residents are under, two women who’ve received Salvation Army assistance agreed to share their personal stories. However, they both wished to remain anonymous, so their names have been changed for this article.

Diana is a 40-year-old married woman with four children who range in age from elementary school through college. She and her husband both work full-time jobs. Though, by the time they pay all their bills, particularly the rising cost of health insurance, they have a rough time making ends meet. They’ve utilized the Salvation Army, off and on for five years, for fuel and gas needs, groceries, school supplies, Christmas assistance and sheer emotional support.

“We don’t have a savings account, so especially when a vehicle breaks down, it’s hard to stay caught up,” Diana explained. “It’s hard knowing we’re working so hard and can’t seem to get ahead. It’s nice to have someone here like the Salvation Army when we need it.”

Kapinus pointed out that the Salvation Army only relieves each family once in each assistance category (food, mortgage, gas/fuel, etc.) per year. There are exceptions made in homeless situations.

“Even if I can’t help [Diana], we always talk about other options,” Kapinus said.

“She never makes me feel like a bad person,” Diana continued. “Everybody faces hard times. I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask for help. Jen’s a good person and she helps us when we really need it, so we don’t have to feel alone.”

In Diana’s situation, her family does not qualify for governmental or other types of assistance that have income requirements. In those cases, her family makes “too much money” to qualify for assistance.

“What’s on paper for some people isn’t necessarily a reality for basic human needs,” Kapinus asserted.

Regardless, Diana is overly appreciative. So much so that she and her family give back by ringing the bell for the Salvation Army every Christmas season.

Lizzie is a 31-year-old single mother of three children who range in age from 2 to 11. She’s received assistance for gas, emergency shelter and Christmas provisions. This previous summer, the family was homeless. They lived in a tent for six weeks. During that time, one of the kids had surgery and was recovering, with a tent called home.

Lizzie said she’s unable to work mainly because her youngest child has special needs and has had abundant health issues. She’s had a number of jobs that end as soon as she has to take time off frequently for her children. She said she has no family to turn to for support and only a few good friends. She and her kids live on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and child support but those dollars barely cover their basic needs. She’s also done some child care in her home for friends.

“It sucks not having your own place, living in a tent,” Lizzie lamented. “It’s not just like camping for weeks and months.”

Her family wound up homeless because, she said, they were renting and were asked out of their apartment because the landlord (who’s had civil court issues filed by other tenants) wanted to lease the place to someone else. With a non-refunded security deposit, they had no money to start over.

“So we stayed in a friend’s yard, in a tent,” Lizzie stated. “We got some help from Catholic Charities too but it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I came here and was able to get put up in a motel. I don’t think anybody ever wants to ask for help but sometimes you have to just reach out. It doesn’t just mean you’re lazy and you don’t want to get a job.”

Despite any parents’ circumstances, the Salvation Army is on a mission to help kids, especially emergency needs.

“This year has been very different. We’ve had more homeless than previously,” Kapinus implored. We work together with Catholic Charities and Couleecap the best we can but, this year, we were all just slammed more than ever with the working poor, families living in motels and families living paycheck to paycheck.”

Kapinus realizes people are “afraid to act early” and that reality only seems to compound the problem of those who find themselves in a bad situation turned worse. “If people would just come to us before their electricity is cut off, we could help them before it breaks them.”

For the 2016 Salvation Army bell ringing season, $18,480 was collected in Crawford County. That came from kettles with bell ringers at Zinkle’s Piggly Wiggly, Walmart and Cabela’s (police/fire departments) and kettles placed at other areas of the county’s communities. The only expenses the organization has is for advertising, so the remainder is used toward its many forms of assistance. Those funds are typically distributed about 75 percent to local residents and the rest to transients.

“Disaster funds don’t come out of the kettle fund,” Kapinus said, noting that those needs come from the national system.

“Bell ringing is so important. It’s our one and only fundraiser,” she added. “If anyone can spare two hours of time to help ring a bell, that’s incredible. We’ve already had a great start to the volunteering this season. We have a wonderfully generous community in so many ways.”

Currently, she said weekday bell ringers are mostly needed from now through Christmas. This year, a goal of $20,000 in funds raised in Crawford County has been set.

“The need is here more than ever, more than I’ve seen in my 10 years here,” Kapinus said.

For more information, follow the Salvation Army of Crawford County Facebook page. Bell ringing shifts can be filled on there or by calling 326-8321.

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