More Than A Helping Hand
(September 22, 2009)
|Harlingen, Texas, September 19, 2009
-- The late philosopher and academic Alfred North
Whitehead may have described us best when he wrote, “The
kindness of the American people is, so far as I know,
something unique in the history of the world.” These
acts of kindness identified by Whitehead have been
repeated uncountable times in the course of our history.
They continue today in the good works of individuals,
small groups, large organizations and yes, in many
programs of our local and national governments.|
An ever-present example of kindness to others and the
extending of a helping hand can be witnessed every day
of the week in a large building between “E” and “F”
Streets in Harlingen, Texas. It is there Loaves and
Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley reaches out to every
person who arrives at its door in need. It is also
within the confines of this multi-service humanitarian
organization that people can see first hand the
devastating consequences of a recession that has eaten
its way into every corner of our country.
Just three years ago Loaves and Fishes finished a year
of service by feeding slightly more than 76,000 meals to
the hungry. This year the shelter has already provided
105,367 meals and estimates that number will exceed
128,500 people served by the end of the calendar year.
Added to this number are 3,500 bags of food distributed
to other families in need.
At the beginning of 2006, Loaves and Fishes had provided
6,202 bed nights to the homeless. This year will see
10,480 bed nights offered to those with no other place
to receive shelter. 4, 560 of those beds will have been
provided to women and children.
Almost two decades ago the Harlingen Ministerial
Alliance formed Loaves and Fishes to help a growing
number of hungry individuals in the city. It opened its
doors as a small non-profit soup kitchen serving a
single hot meal to those in need. Today it is a newly
refurbished 29,000 square feet of space providing a
one-stop homeless and homeless prevention service.
Loaves and Fishes now provides a homeless individual or
family with food, shelter, job training and job
placement. It also has a variety of programs and
services designed to move people from being homeless and
hopeless to self-sufficiency.
Currently the organization is providing the knowledge,
skills, manpower and institutional expertise required to
administer a large federal project titled the Homeless
Prevention and Re-Housing Program. With a projected
$937,120 from the American Reinvestment and Recovery
Act, better known as the stimulus funds, Loaves and
Fishes will provide homeless prevention assistance to
households that would have found themselves without
shelter due to the economic crisis. It will also provide
assistance to rapidly re-house people who are now
More than 50% of the people staying in the homeless
shelter are employed, but need various levels of
assistance to make it back to self-sufficiency. Some of
these individuals and families can be helped under this
rapid re-housing program.
Other families now on the brink of becoming homeless can
be provided with rent and utility assistance until they
are capable of assuming full financial control of their
lives. This help can be from a single month of rental
assistance up to 18 months of subsidized financial help.
But, it is not a handout to those who are unwilling to
help themselves. To qualify, all family members must
attend a 16-hour course of financial planning. They must
also undergo credit reports and credit repair. The L&F
staff reviews all bills and obligations and each month
the families must prove they have used the money saved
by the federal program to pay down on their outstanding
debt. A case manager is assigned to every family in the
program, to assure compliance. The final objective is
for each family to become debt free or at least have
their financial obligations current and manageable.
Estimates made by L&F personnel reveal that rental
assistance will be provided to 216 families and utility
assistance will be extended to 90 families. Additional
assistance in various forms should also be provided to
another 612 families. In all, more than 3,800 people
will be helped on the road to self sufficiency by the
partnership efforts of this faith based organization and
the federal government.
Thomas D. Segel
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