ELKHART — The holidays are a time for hanging out with family, baking cookies and surprising friends with special gifts. They are also a time of need.
Elkhart County’s nonprofit organizations hear from people in the community who need help all year long, but sometimes the holidays add stress to their lives, according to Church Community Services development director Carol Willis.
“People want to do something more for the holidays, and sometimes they can’t, so it makes them feel bad,” she said.
But even beyond wanting to do something special to celebrate the holidays, like exchanging presents or decorating their home with twinkling lights, people need help with “the basics,” Willis said. That means help paying utility bills and putting food on the table. Requests for assistance at Church Community Services, or CCS, have been relatively steady over the past few years, she said. In November, the organization’s food pantry distributed food to nearly 2,400 households, including 145 homebound people who had groceries delivered.
“We’re having food drives right now, and a lot of canned goods are coming in, but we also need staples, things you always have in your cupboard like flour, salt and cooking oil,” Willis said. “Personal care products and diapers are always a need.”
With an average of 140 people sleeping at Faith Mission in Elkhart each night, development director Mike Perez said pillows, blankets and towels are at the top of the organization’s wish list during the winter.
“These are year-round needs, but this time of the year we have our winter shelter program, which means we open the floor up to people,” he explained, adding that he has seen an increase in the number of families showing up for hot meals at the mission as well.
The Family Christian Development Center in Nappanee has a food pantry, a clothing closet, free vaccines for babies up to 2 years old and a prescription aid program, but what people seem to need the most this month is money to pay rent, according to office manager Idella Chupp.
“People are getting laid off, and some people are getting jobs, but then they have to wait for a few weeks to get their first paycheck,” she said. “In some cases, it’s just caught up with them. They’ve been behind for several months, and now they’re finally getting an eviction notice.”
Elkhart County’s township offices offer assistance with utility bills, rent, food and household items. Concord Trustee Mark Grabill said he has actually seen a drop in the number of people coming to him for help, but he’s not the only one.
“I know for myself, Osolo Township and Elkhart Township, which is basically Goshen, when we’ve talked, we’ve all seen drops in our assistance, not just what we’re giving out but also people coming in the door,” Grabill said. “In 2011, when I first started, we were having 50 or 60 people a day coming through the door, and now it depends on the time of the year, but on average I would say we get eight to 10 people.”
Concord Township is largest in the county with about 55,000 residents. Two years ago, Grabill never thought he would see the day when requests for assistance would decrease so sharply.
“One of the things I wanted to do, and it really sounds weird to say, but I wanted to work myself out of a job,” Grabill said. “By that, I mean I wanted to try to help folks get to the point where they didn’t need assistance, but honestly, I don’t know what the real reasons behind all of this is.”
Grabill said the township, however, could use help with its senior Chrismas program that uses donations to buy $25 gift cards for low-income seniors. This year’s list includes roughly 300 seniors, but donations are not as high as they need to be, he said.
HOW TO DONATE
Church Community Services, 907 Oakland Ave. in Elkhart, 295-3673
Faith Mission, 801 Benham Ave. in Elkhart, 293-3406
Family Christian Development Center, 151 S. Locke St. in Nappanee, 773-2149
Concord Township, 228 Waterfall Drive in Elkhart, 293-9431, or call your local township trustee