Helps Ministry Temporarily Suspends Financial Assistance

HELPS has been an important ministry of the Church of the Good Samaritan for many years. (HELPS is not an acronym – just what the ministry does!) In its early years, Arnie Larsen and Kathie Cross served faithfully as HELPS counselors. Presently, Glenna Geiger, Angela Linden, and Rose Dodd carry on that role and responsibility. Unfortunately, due to overwhelming requests and fast-depleting funding, HELPS has suspended receiving any new requests – a temporary situation, we hope. More below about finances.

HELPS’ target population are residents of Chester County who find themselves in short-term financial difficulty due to an unexpected set-back. These are often due to situations such as cut-back in working hours, steep rent increase, accident or illness that causes loss of income (fewer employers today offer benefits like sick leave), family hospitalization, and so forth. The target population does not include those in long-term financial need. In short, HELPS tries to provide assistance in situations where a one-time boost – of up to $300 – can make a significant difference in helping an individual or a family weather a temporary financial situation. Common financial assistance includes payment of utility bills (often to prevent shut-off of service), portion of a hospital bill, portion of a monthly housing rent, and such. Any payments are made directly to the business or organization requiring payment, never directly to the person requesting assistance.

In the past few years, requests for assistance – made by calling the HELPS line at church and leaving a message to be picked up by a counselor – averaged around 100 a year, with about $15,000 expended, and actually helped around 60 individuals and families. Last year, 2017, those numbers just about doubled. For 2018 the increases have been staggering: the numbers for the first seven months of the year have increased more than 250% over the same period as 2017. Some specific numbers highlight the increased demand. (The numbers indicate comparisons for the first seven months of this and last year.)

  • Number of requests is up 250% (from 82 last year to 259 this year). Counselors can vouch for this increase, which has brought a significant increase in the number of hours their volunteer assistance requires.
  • Number of people actually helped (clients must meet a variety of criteria) increased 260%. Last year 38 cases were helped, this year 138.
  • The amount of money allocated to “helped” clients is up 278% from last year. $38,000 this year (so far) – up from just under $10,000 for the same period in 2017.

The data shows, too, that expenditure increases do NOT indicate that counselors have “loosened” any of their eligibility criteria. Those denied help this year (for various reasons) is also “up” and in the same ballpark as the other data: (200% more were denied this year compared to last year.)

All this shows the reason there was need for a temporary suspension of processing any new requests. Current funds available for HELPS can “cover” any requests under consideration, but cannot be stretched further. Also, the ministry does not want to take requests – raising a needy person’s hopes – without the assurance that there will be funds to actually help. July 20, the HELPS line message was changed to indicate that they are temporarily not receiving any new requests. For people who do call, counselors continue to talk with the callers, often giving not only a listening ear, but providing options for other agencies or alternatives that might be able to help.

Each year, the church receives a couple of very significant contributions earmarked for HELPS, which in the past has provided a nice reserve to the budgeted funds. Those additional funds are already a part of the funding for 2018, and such future gifts would not usually be available until 2019. Several parishioners do make contributions directed toward HELPS, which is included in the total funding available. ***Anyone can make contributions to HELPS. Simply use one of the special gifts pew envelopes and make sure to note for HELPS. Any checks, whether in an envelope or just given, can be made out to the church but need to have HELPS in the memo line to ensure the gift gets to the HELPS fund.***

During this suspension, those involved with HELPS will be discussing various reasonable options to have the HELPS ministry better “fit” into today’s world, both in terms of available funds and the human needs to administer and manage HELPS. The hope is that by mid-fall, HELPS will be able to resume helping financially, even if on a modified basis. All those involved with the ministry and many within our church consider HELPS a very important outreach ministry, a ministry that serves as a tangible demonstration of Good Samaritan wanting to be a Good Samaritan and helping others. In short, HELPS is one clear message that at Good Samaritan, we "put our money where our mouths are."

Most of this update has been the numbers and nuts and bolts about HELPS. Its important facet, however, is the very human side. The side of Christians seeing Christ in others, especially others in need – and wanting to help, and being a part of a church that wants to help. Below is such a story. It may be a bit unique in its details, but one that is very typical of the need out there … and the caring work that HELPS counselors do.

Sarah (not her real name – although the situation is true) phoned the HELPS line with a message that she needed help paying her rent. The counselor who took calls that week responded and talked with Sarah. She had a part-time job, lived in a rented room (a small room) in a house whose landlord rented a few rooms. She had also been ill for a period, unable to work, and could not fully pay her current monthly rental bill. She needed about $275 more to have enough. The counselor received a copy of the rent bill (some such documentation is required before helping a client), which showed a base rent of $525 a month, but plus add-ons of $206 for things such as utilities, trash, heating oil, a rented space heater, and for toilet paper, water filters, etc. (Her $206 for add-ons was one of similar add-ons for the other three renters with rooms in the house.)

After reviewing the situation and documents, and also talking with another agency, which had “vetted” the situation – deeming it quite valid – the counselor agreed for HELPS to pay the $275, which would go by check directly to the landlord. After talking with the landlord, the counselor learned that he does not accept checks, a CASH-ONLY rental payment. Obviously, red flags were raised! (And HELPS only pays by check.) Also, this had all the earmarks of a shady operation. Doing something like pursuing the possible illegality of the situation did not seem appropriate as such could put the renting client in some type of threatening situation. Still wanting to help, however, the HELPS counselor asked whether there were any other bills we might pay that would free up money for Sarah to pay her full rent. There were, all were considered legit, and HELPS payed a total of just under $300 toward these payments.

The story, however, does not end. Realizing that this living situation was not one Sarah could probably maintain (and she did not feel safe in the house), the counselor helped her consider other options, strongly suggesting that she, if possible, should leave this rental. One option ended up storing Sarah’s meager belongings with a friend, who was also able to give her a place to stay for a few weeks. At the end of the rental month, Sarah moved in with the friend, paying a modest rent. She and the counselor continued to talk, both for helping Sarah find other options and also for moral support to keep trying. She also told Sarah about the Good Samaritan Food Closet and encouraged her to come. Sarah did, and continues to.  Later during all this, the counselor remembered an old friend who used to also rent rooms in her home, and knew she was a good and honest Christian woman. After conversation, the woman did still rent rooms and would have one opening up in a couple of weeks, and she’d be glad to take Sarah on a trial basis.

So far, the story is having a happy ending. Sarah not only seems to be thriving in the more “family” atmosphere of her new home, but recently landed a full-time job, with benefits with another company. And she plans to start going to church. Praise to God!

Not all HELPS stories have such a nice ending (so far), but this one is very typical of the difficult situations many people today deal with (the improving economy is not a reality for many); but the work of HELPS and the counselors is typical. All the counselors have similar stories they could tell. Some people they help may not be as much a go-getter as Sarah proved to be, and some perhaps not that appreciative – at least verbally. But, those are a definite minority, the majority being thankful not only for financial help, but also a caring ear. Even some who HELPS is not able to assist express their thankfulness that “finally, someone listened to me!”

You can help HELPS not only through financial gifts and words of support to the three counselors, but also through your prayers:

  • Pray that HELPS funding will grow so counselors can again assist the needy later in the year,
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will be with the HELPS team as they consider ways to modify the ministry to continue to meet needs, but also adjust to fit within reasonable financial parameters and the human and emotional resources of volunteering in such a ministry.
  • Pray for the many people, like Sarah, out there in our own neighborhood, who find themselves in financial straits, some of their own making because of poor decisions and plain old mistakes, and the many who are in that condition because of systems and individuals that are not helpful (or even just hurtful), and the ones who simply seem to get dealt a bad hand by the realities of life.