Need for charity services rising

Published 8:49 am Friday, October 9, 2009

FRANKLIN—Western Tidewater has seen its share of economic stressors over the past several months. As a result, some are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for basic necessities such as food, housing and utilities, according to Veronica Ferguson, director of the Franklin Cooperative Ministry.

“The average Joe has been hit twice as hard,” she said, noting that the effects of the economy have hit families that typically give to the ministry. “So the donations are not coming in like they used to because of the economic times.”

The Franklin Cooperative Ministry is a nonprofit agency run by churches in Franklin, Southampton County, southern Isle of Wight County and southwestern portions of Suffolk.

The ministry provides emergency bags of food for people who don’t qualify for benefits through social services or as a stopgap until benefits are granted. The bags contain about $20 worth of canned goods, cereal, spaghetti and other nonperishable foods.

“Whatever is donated to us we in turn put into these bags,” Ferguson said. “We cannot take expired food or home-canned food. It has to be processed.” Special bags for diabetic and homeless clients are also prepared.

“This is where most people go for food,” she said, noting that there are churches in the area that distribute food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.

Demand for the ministry’s services has risen dramatically over the past year, according to Ferguson.

“Last year, I did 387 bags of food. This year, as of Sept. 24, we had already done over 600 bags,” she said, and demand is likely to increase as winter approaches.

Ferguson said that she tries to stay informed about any resources that are available in the community, like special grants or programs. Even with extra resources, some are still finding it hard to make ends meet.

“Those that are on unemployment are really being hit hard,” she said. Going from a regular paycheck to unemployment benefits can easily leave a family’s budget in ruins. Ferguson said that many people are doing “anything they can do to meet these bills.”

Franklin Cooperative Ministry isn’t just a food pantry. It offers a clothing closet, temporary prescription assistance and minimal financial assistance in cases where utilities are in danger of being disconnected or there is a threat of eviction. The ministry also works closely with public agencies like social services and the Health Department.

Ferguson said that keeping the food pantry shelves stocked has become more difficult, however, it just got a little easier thanks to the Franklin Area chapter of the AARP. According to John Vargo, chapter president, members donated about 1,200 pounds of food to the Franklin Cooperative Ministry on Thursday.

“It’s just a blessing,” Ferguson said of the AARP’s donation. She said that donations, no matter how big or small, are always welcomed.

The AARP is also teaming up with the Hunterdale Ruritan Club to hold a food drive on Oct. 24 at local grocery stores. Murray Turner, president of the Hunterdale Ruritan Club, said that 62 Ruritan Clubs in Virginia were partnering with AARP chapters to hold food drives to benefit their local food banks.

“It’s very worthwhile, with the economy the way it is,” he said.