For two nonprofits serving Cudahy and St. Francis residents, 2009 was a challenging year. Founded over 35 years ago by local congregations to serve the poor and elderly, Project Concern and Interfaith Older Adult Program were hit hard by the state of the economy over the last two years.
Project Concern, a food pantry and clothing center, had a record-setting year, breaking the 500-household barrier for the first time in October. November's 547 households and the nearly 150 new households registered in that and the previous month showed that the recession is still in full swing in these communities. Money was very tight, but a surge in private giving at the end of the year enabled them to just meet their budget. However, they were forced to cut back on the amount of relatively expensive “personal care” products (soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) they give to patrons.
Next year, Project Concern faces new challenges because a grant through the W-2 program has been ended, forcing them to lay off their two Outreach Specialists, who were responsible for ensuring that pantry patrons learn about food stamps, energy assistance, and other resources available to them. Project will now rely on volunteers to become familiar with these resources and help people access them. Volunteers are the pantry's greatest need, both during operational hours – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 AM to Noon, Mondays from 3-6 PM and first Saturdays from 9-11 AM – and at other times as clothing sorters, food buyers, etc.
Cudahy-St. Francis Interfaith had perhaps an even more difficult 2009. For the first time on record, the organization ran a large deficit of $10,000, forcing it to draw on reserves and calling into question whether current services can continue. However, a new director, Mark Peters, was hired in October of 2008 and has strengthened the volunteer base, re-structured the board of directors, and started reaching out to government, businesses and individuals for support. The office, located in the former Holy Family rectory on Underwood Avenue, has been re-organized and files updated for the first time in several years. (Peters also oversees Project Concern. Both agencies are sponsored by Nativity of the Lord/Cudahy and Sacred Heart of Jesus/St. Francis Catholic, St. John and St. Mark's Ev. Lutheran, Cudahy United Methodist and Changing Lives Assembly of God churches.)
Peters says that although Interfaith provides one hundred rides a month to area seniors, many more volunteers would be needed to meet the demand if all who needed the services were to request them. The greatest need is for people who can offer a weekday ride at least once or twice a month, but those whose work schedules don't allow that can help on weekends with yardwork, light housekeeping, and minor repair work, or by simply befriending an isolated senior or helping with paperwork, taxes, etc.
Peters hopes that people understand that the reason Interfaith connects volunteers with those in need is to help them stay living in their own homes. “Reliable transportation to the doctor, the grocery store, and other vital services and help with occasional home chores or paperwork can be the difference between independence and assisted living or the nursing home,” he explains. “Keeping people independent saves countless dollars in health care costs, to say nothing of the money saved by adult children who don't have to take off work to take mom or dad to the doctor. The whole community benefits from the work of our volunteers. People need to ask themselves if they want this organization to be around when their parents need it, or for that matter when they themselves eventually need it. If so, they need to recognize that the government funding we've been getting by on for years is now drying up, maybe for a long time. In the end, the future of Interfaith is up to the community.” Peters asks those who want to help either organization to call him at 483-4474.
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