Helping Hand needs a helping hand

"How to helpTo give financial assistance to the Helping Hand charity, send a check to P.O. Box 661, Langley WA 98260. For more information call 221-7777.One of South Whidbey's oldest charitable organizations is itself in need of some help these days.Helping Hand is likely to run out of money at the end of June, according ro Sonny Richardson, executive director.The all-volunteer charity is based in a small house across from Langley Middle School which also houses the independently-operated Pregnancy Aid.Helping Hand dates back more than 20 years to a handful of volunteers operating out of an office at St. Hubert Catholic Church. Eventually Langley resident Judy Yeakel provided the group a house of their own, the name Helping Hand was adopted, and various churches and community clubs have supported it ever since.Other charities such as Good Cheer have supplied food and clothing to the needy as well as medical care. Helping Hand has focused on what Richardson calls things that keep a house going.Those things include assisting with rent or mortgage payments, emergency repairs or utility bills.Through the years an annual call for support in November has resulted in sufficient funding for Helping Hand. What's different this year? Richardson cites two major factors: Demand for help is way up, while this winter's skyrocketing fossil fuel rates increased the cost of helping people.In the past Helping Hand received an average 25 requests for help each month, while this year it's been in the range of 30 to 40 help requests.Helping Hand pays in cash to help some of the people out, with small sums traditionally ranging from $75 to $120 to get them through a difficult month. This year, the costs have increased to $280 to $400 per month, Richardson said.Helping Hand operates on about $15,000 in donations per year with very little overhead. Volunteers do all the work and the only regular costs are $50 a month for rent and $75 a month for the phone bill.There's another factor involved in increased expenditures, however. Pam Stovel, a board member, said the Helping Hand board last year changed to a grants-only policy, which replaced the traditional requirement that some monetary loans be repaid. It gave us a lot more business, she said. Now, people return for more help, whereas before they were limited in what they could ask for because of the payback requirement.Richardson said the policy change was made because the volunteers didn't want to be loan collectors, and besides, only about 20 percent of the people were ever able to repay the loan.These are people already dealing with bill collectors, Richardson said. We didn't want to add to their misery.Karen Thomas, another board member, said increased demand, energy hikes and the new grants-only policy all came together at one time, resulting in the present shortfall of funding. We'll have to shut our doors by the first of July, she said.The churches that support Helping Hand have always sent needy people there, knowing help was available and that the non-profit agency had a screening process. A lot of people depend on us for being here; the churches sure do, said Stovel. "

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