Community Helping Place was in its early stages of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak when they heard from the Jackson EMC Foundation.
“We were excited and comforted by the news that the Foundation would consider requests for special funding for emergency assistance,” recalls Executive Director Melissa Line. “Their generous offer to consider additional funding could not have come at a more critical time.”
As Lumpkin County’s largest outreach program, Community Helping Place serves one in seven Lumpkin County residents by providing a variety of needs, including food, medical, housing and transportation. Just days into the pandemic, the nonprofit began to feel the crunch.
“We started seeing an uptick in need by the end of March,” says Line. “We immediately saw a 25% increase in requests for food. We had folks asking for more than we usually provide.”
During the week of March 16, the agency’s foot traffic increased by 30 families weekly, according to Line, who says the pandemic brought increased costs for extra cleaning supplies, paperwork and signs to notify clients of social distancing. Funds at the nonprofit were already on the downturn, she says, noting that their largest source of revenue, the thrift store, had experienced declining sales since 2018 due mostly to competition from other thrift shops.
“We were already stretched as tightly as possible to meet our budget, and the need for our services kept increasing exponentially as a result of COVID-19,” she says. “But with assistance from Jackson EMC’s and other foundations, we didn’t have to turn anyone away.”
Their grant money helped the agency expand its gas voucher program, which provides $20 vouchers for those needing assistance with transportation.
“We were able to give out more of those with fewer restrictions,” says Line. “And we were able to help people with bills as high as $380, thanks to the extra funding.”
One client who needed help with transportation was assisted in a unique way. A single mom in Dahlonega, Jessica lacked a way to get to work so she didn’t have a job.
“She’d gone from living in a storage shed to living in a subsidized apartment and landed on her feet, so we’ve tried to help her with health care and other needs,” says Line. “We would have been willing to get her a car but felt it would be too big a financial burden for her to pay for insurance, tag and maintenance. She said an adult trike would be ideal.”
Community Helping Place used part of their Jackson EMC Foundation grant to purchase a purple trike with a basket Jessica can use to carry groceries and other items.
“Now I can transport myself to and from places,” she said, beaming the June day she received the trike. “It may take some practice and endurance, but it will be worth it. I can ride to the park with my kids, go get groceries, and go back and forth to work now. This means the world to me. The possibilities are endless. I am grateful.”