Family Services pays bills during emergencies

October 14, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Linda Sargent knows what it's like to run a little short of cash, especially when an illness meant that she lost one of two jobs she was trying to juggle.

Suffering from pneumonia, Sargent went to see Victoria Scarborough, executive director for Family Services, about needing help paying a light bill.

"She helped me that day, and that night I was put in the hospital," Sargent says of the August visit.

Eventually, Sargent was back on her feet and on the job, but she also needed some money for a doctor's visit. "I told her my goal as soon as I got out of the hospital was to go back to work at Kroger. I'm not a giver-upper. I'm a go-getter," says the 55-year-old Sargent, who also was trying to work a second job at a convenience store when she got sick.

Scarborough, who has worked with the agency since January, says she tries to encourage clients to take steps to help themselves.


"The thing I like about Linda is that when I suggest things, she does those things. She went to the food stamp office and got food stamps. She kept trying to get a job and did get a job."

Sargent says just talking with Scarborough helps.

"She's a person if you're stressed out, you can go to her and talk to her. By the time you leave there, you're feeling much better about the world around you."

As someone who lost her husband of 19 years a couple of years ago, Sargent knows what it's like to feel down in the dumps. She says she finds a lot of comfort in having her family around her. Her grown children, a son and daughter, live with her at her Parksville home as does her son-in-law and four grandchildren.

Sargent says she likes to make her own way, but it's a relief to know that there is an agency to help when times are hard. "I felt bad going (to Family Services), but I had no choice," she says. Scarborough says her agency, which is the oldest help organization in Danville, having started in 1916, is there to provide temporary financial aid. Family Services helps low-income people who are having a financial emergency pay part or all of their rent or utilities. The agency also helps the elderly with medication expenses and provides food vouchers. The elderly can receive the food voucher, because they don't usually receive food stamps, Scarborough says.

Agency served 77 households in September

In September, the agency served 77 households, or 300 individuals who were not senior citizens. An additional 40 senior citizens were helped. Each household received about $75.

"An electric bill of $65, we could pay all of that. If it's $120, we could pay $75 or that. For the elderly, we try to pay all of it. We have a little more leeway," Scarborough says.

When finances are tight, even buying gasoline is a problem for people. Heating bills are outrageous, Scarborough says.

"Last winter, we would have clients who came in with one month's gas bill of $500, and they just don't have it."

Most clients are on disability, and it's tough to pay all of the bills when the average disability payment is $564 a month. Scarborough says a lot of clients are single moms who are not working and the only help they receive is food stamps.

"For people in those situations, their electric bill is an obstacle every month."

For a quarter, July through September, Scarborough's agency spent $19,400 on assistance. Money comes from city and county government, the United Way and some trust funds. About 70 percent of the budget is for client assistance.

"We have really low overhead," says Scarborough, who works in a 50-year-old building. For the United Way Day of Caring, Scarborough was happy when volunteers put caulking on windows and painted the back door, which had peeling paint.

Even though people may struggle with finances every month, Scarborough says the agency can't help the same people all of the time. "We're supposed to be helping people in emergency situations, and people can't have an emergency every month, but in reality they do."

With a constant stream of clients, Scarborough says it's sometimes difficult to determine whose needs are greatest.

"The thing I try really hard to keep in mind is that people have given voluntarily to United Way or they've been taxed. I ask myself, 'What would the average citizen of Boyle County want?'"

Tries to spread the wealth

Scarborough says she tries to spread the wealth among clients. "The second or third time they come in, I'm less inclined to give, because I know they have to do something else," she says.

Although Scarborough can't help in every situation, she tries to steer clients toward other agencies. "One of the things I think we do really well is networking. We try to be sort of a clearinghouse. When clients come in, I have a list of other services available in the community."

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