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Jefferson County Community Ministries sees increase in need as economy struggles along

September 08, 2008|By DAVE MCMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- One look at the statistics from Jefferson County Community Ministries is all it takes to see how difficult the struggling economy has been on some people.

The downtown Charles Town-based organization was set up 25 years ago to give temporary help to people struggling with hardships like hunger, and lack of shelter, winter heat and clothing.

It also helps people evicted from their homes with rent assistance and helps them pay utility bills, said Bill Willingham, executive director of the organization.

Willingham said he has seen a sharp increase in people seeking assistance from his organization at 238 W. Washington St. ever since the economy started to slow down.

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From January through July, the organization helped 1,459 families, an increase of 179 families from the same period last year, Willingham said.

In 2001, the organization helped about 2,000 people and last year, that number grew to more than 3,200, Willingham said.

Willingham attributed the trend to a tough economy, in which consumers are facing mortgage foreclosures, drops in home values, and soaring gas and food prices.

"When you see the price of food the way it's been increasing in recent months, it's unbelievable," Willingham said.

In the recently passed Jefferson County Commission budget, the commissioners increased their contribution to Jefferson County Community Ministries from $3,000 to $4,000 to help the organization deal with increased demand, Commissioner Dale Manuel said.

Jefferson County Community Ministries has helped about 20 former workers at AB&C Group Inc., a local mail- order company that put about 680 people out of work recently through layoffs and plant shutdowns in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Willingham said.

Some of the former AB&C workers that Jefferson County Community Ministries assisted needed rent assistance after they faced foreclosure as a result of not being able to make house payments, Willingham said.

Six local churches initially came together to form Jefferson County Community Ministries and now 48 churches offering money, food, clothing and volunteer help are helping run the organization, Willingham said.

Potential clients for the organization are screened and a family's financial picture is analyzed to determine whether it can obtain assistance, organization officials have said.

The organization helps with a variety of assistance, most of it in the form of food, Willingham said. It also helps buy kerosene and other fuel for heating, temporary shelter and assistance with medicine, Willingham said.

On a recent Monday morning, Willingham looked down over the list of services and the number of people being helped.

"Everything's been up," he said.

What about keeping up with demand?

"Well," said Willingham, pausing. "As long as our contributions keep coming in."

Besides the help from churches, Jefferson County Community Ministries also gets financial assistance from individuals, civic organizations and businesses, like Charles Town Races & Slots, which gave 16 tons of food to the organization in a recent donation, Willingham said.

Volunteers being honored

About 80 volunteers help keep Jefferson County Community Ministries running.

There are only two paid positions -- the executive director and treasurer -- at the organization's office at 238 W. Washington St., said Executive Director Bill Willingham.

To thank the volunteers for their work, the organization will hold a banquet Saturday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Independent Fire Co.'s banquet room on West Third Avenue in Ranson, Willingham said.

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