Finding help in hard
little credit card overindulgence, a monthly mortgage payment that's hard to make
even in the best of times and the loss of a job. Suddenly, you're moving from
easy street to the poor house.
have families in the Chicago area where both mom and dad are making six figures
and are putting all their money into their lives and have no savings," says
Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based America's Second Harvest, a nationwide
network of food banks and food rescue organizations. "One acquaintance lost
her job and had to sell all her furniture except the beds. She has a 5,000-square-foot
house and couldn't sell it, didn't have any equity and couldn't afford to move."
Similar tales are
recounted across the country. Household debt and personal bankruptcies are reaching
record highs. Combine that with a sluggish job market and escalating health care
costs, and it's easy to fall into hard times.
there are places to turn when you hit a rough patch economically. Both governmental
and private groups can help with immediate needs, such as food, housing, home
fuel, medical care and transportation. Charitable organizations may also offer
job training or additional services such as low-cost child care or car repairs.
course, you must be willing to look for and accept the help. And in some cases,
especially when a government agency is involved, you could be out of luck again
if you don't meet specific qualifying standards.
First, some tips
on where to begin when times turn tough.
your local food bank
Food banks are part of the larger community of
help agencies and are often the first point of contact when a family finds itself
in financial trouble. In many cases, food banks can offer referrals in addition
to food. One program provides leads on free or low-cost car repair, furniture
and respite care, as well as job training and placement.
do an intake of everyone who applies for food," explains Heather Grenier,
director of the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, Bozeman, Mont. "The main reason
for the intake is to provide referrals so people don't become repeat clients."
If you have difficulty finding a food bank near you,
search (by ZIP code or state) for nearby food banks at America's
Second Harvest's Web site or call the group toll-free at (800)
771-2303 for a referral.
Network with local houses of worship
Religious institutions are well known for their charity work.
Local churches often supplement food banks with their own grocery programs, as
well as operate or sponsor other assistance programs. These range from emergency
housing and transportation services to laundry facilities and free showers for
the homeless. Checking in with a church or synagogue, even if you are not a member
of the congregation, can help you find the help you need.
It can be difficult, but talking
with personal contacts can help you locate assistance. A teacher, for example,
can probably tell you about food programs the elementary school has for children.
Schools also are a good way to locate a low-cost medical clinic where your child
can receive free or reduced-cost treatment based on your ability to pay.
Dial a hot line
Many hotlines keep tabs on social services
and charities in their area. The Help Center in Bozeman, Mont., staffs a 24/7
help line and maintains a dossier on aid for families in crisis, including substance
abuse counseling services and sources for emergency food, lodging or transportation,
says Libbie Brey, a Help Center volunteer.
and municipalities also are moving toward special assistance numbers. "In
Chicago they've added a 311 number, a non-emergency city number where, for example,
you can find the location of summer feeding programs so your children can be fed
lunch when school's closed and other emergency aid," says Hofer.
with national relief groups
The local chapters of larger organizations
such as Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army are a good place to find aid.
Like food banks, these groups often have a finger on the pulse of local charity
efforts, as well as run their own programs. Among well-known Salvation Army programs
are the provision of school supplies for children of low-income families and winter
coats during the cold months.