Every month, Helping Hands director Nancy Guerry sees anywhere from 50 to 200 individuals seeking one-time financial or food assistance come through her doors.
Some of them are recently employed workers that need a little help between paychecks to make rent or mortgage payments. Others are young families in need of food, or senior citizens who can’t afford to purchase both groceries and medication that month.
“We’re helping people that aren’t at the crisis point yet,” Guerry said. “But they will be if they let the situation go much longer.”
That statement, in itself, may be parallel with the situation Helping Hands and other local nonprofits are facing while the partial government shutdown persists.
Some of the money Helping Hands, and other nonprofits, use to provide financial assistance comes from federal grants — grants that cannot be distributed while the federal government is closed.
Renee Sanders, United Way of Lowndes County’s interim director, is responsible for managing the Emergency Food and Shelter Program Grant, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and distributed to United Way chapters. Last year, the United Way of Lowndes County received $27,000 in EFSP grant funds.
That money is distributed among five nonprofits that apply to United Way for the grant: Salvation Army, Loaves and Fishes, Helping Hands, Recovery House and Safe Haven. Grant money is disbursed in two installments upon demonstration of need.
But if the partial government shutdown extends past Feb. 1 — when the new grant fiscal year begins — Sanders said United Way, and the nonprofits it provides grants to, will not receive EFSP grant money.
“We can apply for (the grant),” she said. “But we won’t see any actual funding (until the government reopens).”
Safe Haven, a emergency shelter and crisis intervention nonprofit for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, should receive $1,500 in EFSP grant money, according to figures furnished by Sanders. Executive Director Joyce Tucker said they have received $750 of that money so far. In total, the EFSP grant accounts for less than 1 percent of Safe Haven’s budget, but it provides key assistance for operations.
“(The EFSP grant funding) was earmarked for food service and equipment,” she said. “So it’s not nothing.”
The loss of EFSP funding, however temporary, isn’t as concerning to Tucker as an email she received last week from the Office for Victims of Crime. The email stated that VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grants will be funded through March 1, at which time, all grant funding through that office will stop.
“The majority of our staff (salaries) is in this grant,” Tucker said. “So that’s of pretty big concern to us. I don’t think (the shutdown) will go that far. But it’s concerning.”
Pam Rhea, president of Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen that serves Lowndes County, said that losing funds from the EFSP grant “shouldn’t have an immediate impact” on the kitchen. Last year, Loaves and Fishes received $3,000 from the EFSP grant.
“We’ve gotten some donations that’ll keep us going,” she said. “We have some generous people in our community.”
Guerry said the $4,500 Helping Hands has received from the EFSP grant so far — out of a total $9,000 allocated to them by United Way — is about 3 or 4 percent of their budget.
“So it’s not a substantial amount,” Guerry said. “It just means it’s less money that we can use to help people coming in.”
Helping Hands will still to offer one-time financial assistance to those in need, but if it doesn’t receive EFSP funding, that’s a few thousand dollars less that the community can access, Guerry said.
“But we always run on the faith that, if we’re doing the right thing, the money will come,” she added. “As long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’ll find the money.”
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