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Rent, fuel bill help requests expected to double

January 06, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Requests by Waynesboro residents for emergency cash to pay rent and utilities are expected to have doubled between 2001 and 2002, a sign the nation's stumbling economy and growing jobless rates are starting to show their effects in south central Pennsylvania.

The heads of two local nonprofit assistance agencies - the Waynesboro Area Human Services Council and Waynesboro Welfare Association - blamed increased activity in their respective offices in part on layoffs from area industries.

"We're getting more and more people in here every month," said Denise Esser, coordinator of the Human Services Council at 24 East Main St. "What I've been hearing throughout the year is that people are getting laid off or seeing a reduction in their hours."

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The council provides assistance to residents in the Waynesboro Area and Greencastle-Antrim school districts. Esser said earlier she is also seeing more people coming in who have lost jobs in Maryland and West Virginia.

In 2001, the agency handed out about $23,800 in one-time emergency cash payments to individuals and families to help pay rent or fuel costs. In 11 months of 2002, the council paid out nearly $40,000, Esser said.

The figures for December have not been tallied yet, she said Thursday.

The average amount for the one-time payment is $100, she said. The money is paid directly to the client's landlord or utility company.

The human services council found the extra money last year in a federal emergency food and shelter grant funded through United Way.

The council was organized by the area fellowship of churches in 1979 to provide the poor with a central location to go to for assistance. The office moved from 40 W. North St. to its East Main Street space in June.

The council rents office space to the Cumberland Valley Mental Health Center, Catholic Charities, Franklin/Fulton County Mental Health/Mental Retardation, drug and alcohol programs and occupational vocational rehabilitation counseling services.

The Waynesboro Welfare Association is beginning its 72nd year at the same 13 S. Church St. office. It provides free food and clothing to residents of the Waynesboro Area School District.

Food is distributed every three months, said Janet Brockmann, executive director of the agency for the last 15 years.

"We coordinate with the other food banks in the Waynesboro area," she said.

The association was founded in 1931 to relieve the suffering of the needy, mostly by providing free wood and coal to help them heat their homes, Brockmann said. Over the years, the association dropped the fuel assistance program.

Unlike the Human Services Council, it does not hand out emergency cash, but, like the council, has an active food and clothing bank.

When Brockmann took over 15 years ago, the association office was open only on Wednesdays. Today it is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

One major difference between the two agencies is that the welfare association provides free, full-time nursing care to Waynesboro residents. It employs a full-time registered nurse and provides her with a vehicle to make rounds.

The association also pays the salary of a substitute nurse to guarantee 24-hour service, seven days a week. The nurses are on call.

The full-time nurse is Margie Rouzer. The substitute is Laura Velasquez.

"They help anyone, regardless of income," Brockmann said.

Most of the patients are elderly residents who live alone.

"They need help with their meds or to change their bandages. A lot of them are confused," Brockmann said. "The nurses are seeing 40 to 50 people regularly."

She, too, is seeing an increase in requests for assistance. A few years ago the association provided help for an average of 100 families or individuals. Today the list of those signed up is nearly 400.

"We're seeing more new families," Brockmann said.

More than 70 percent of those the association helps with free food and clothing are single mothers, she said.

"That's the way our society is today. The guys live with the women for a year or two then move out and leave them. A lot of them become homeless," she said.

"All I know is that they're here and they need our help," she said.

Both agencies rely on donations from churches, clubs and individuals, along with some help from United Way to exist.

The Welfare Association also gets money from endowments and trust funds.

Both agencies are governed by boards of directors.

Brockmann is the association's only paid employee besides the nurses. Esser and an administrative assistant are the only two in the Human Services Council office. Both agencies rely heavily on volunteers.

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