Several of my articles have explained the multiple sources of donations; this week I thought I’d talk about the people we serve and how they know about us. A very small percentage of our guests, about 10%, are ‘regulars’ that come in several times a year. Our policy allows guests to visit us each month if they are in need of food, clothes or household goods. Financial help is only available twice a year; if I give them financial assistance, I remind them they will not be eligible for another 6 months. We’ve been having high volumes of ‘first timers” this past year; it hasn’t been unusual to have 10-15 new people on one day. When I interview someone on their first visit, I like to ask them how they found out about us and I get a wide range of responses. Many have family members or friends that tell them about us. Others hear about us on the street; I suppose it’s their way of networking among themselves. Some had actually last come to us 10, 15 or even 20 years ago but since we only keep records for 5 years, we treat them as new, meaning we need to set up a new file for them. A high percentage of the first timers only ever visit us once, due to one-time emergency situations.
A large number of other organizations and businesses refer people to us. I work closely with the Help Hub and Catholic Charities; they will refer cases to me when they have a guest that needs additional help. Sometimes we work together and pool our resources, particularly to keep someone from being evicted or having utilities cut off. The shelters, Good Shepherd and the Salvation Army, often send people our way; some need rent assistance for Salvation Army, others need clothes or hygiene items and a few ask for assistance with transportation to relocate, usually to return home to family. The New Hanover Department of Social Services tells people to visit us as does Brunswick Family Assistance and Pender County. Cape Fear Public Utility often encourages people with problems with high water bills to seek our help. (I don’t think it’s an ‘official policy’ of the water company …. it is most likely clerks that work there trying to give helpful advice to people at risk of having their water disconnected.)
United Way has a phone service, “211”, which is a hotline/referral service to connect people to essential health and human services they need; they give our contact info to anyone looking for help in our area, as does the Domestic Violence group. There are many half-way houses in New Hanover and they too send people who need assistance with their rental fees. Apparently our reputation is quite widespread; we get calls from people out of the county or even out of the state, people that are trying to come to Wilmington and need assistance to get settled or perhaps trying to find help for a family member that lives in our area. As with any local calls, I always inform them that we cannot provide any assistance over the phone, but we’d be glad to discuss their needs once they come in to visit us. Many of our parishioners and volunteers have recommended us to people in need; I’m glad they help spread the word!
We are here to serve those in need, whatever or whoever brings them to our doorstep.