Saturday, October 23, 2010

Area Congregations in Ministry, Oxford, NC

Friday, we visited ACIM (Area Congregations in Ministry), in Oxford, NC, which provides emergency assistance to people in need who live in Granville county. In addition to a food pantry that serves approximately 50 families per week, ACIM provides help with medical and utility bills, temporary shelter, and referrals to other services.

ACIM is supported by financial and food donations from local churches, businesses, other organizations, and individuals. It also gets funds from the government and United Way. In 2009, it helped 1516 families (3177 people) with food, and dispersed more than $98,000 to help people pay their bills.

ACIM is housed in a building that used to be a hosiery factory. They just moved to this location last spring from very cramped quarters downtown. After extensive cleaning and remodeling, they now have an entryway decorated with relics from the hosiery factory, a client intake and waiting area, a director’s office, and cubicles for privacy while interviewing the clients. On one side is the food pantry -- a large room with shelving, freezers, refrigerators, and food.

ACIM is open 3 mornings a week. When clients arrive, they sign in. If they’ve been there before, their file is obtained. If they haven’t, a file is created. Then they’re interviewed to determine what help they need.

Most of the requests for help can be handled by the volunteers who initially talk to the clients, but the requests for help paying bills seem to be handled by the able and experienced, Sue Hinman, pictured here on the left. Sue is the only paid ACIM employee, where she’s been the director for 10 years. We sat in as she handled 3 requests.
  • An elderly man who supports himself and his wife on $600/mo + $16 in food stamps came with a final notice electric bill for about $285 that needed to be paid by next Tuesday or else his power would be shut off. ACIM rules allow Sue to pay up to $200 once a year, but the man did not have the remaining $85. Sue asked the man to return Monday after she'd had a chance to search for additional funds at other agencies.
  • The second person, a woman, had asked for help before, and was turned down this time because she didn’t have the correct bill.
  • The third was a young man who had been helped before, several years earlier. He had a termination bill for his electricity. Sue gave him a voucher to help with most of this bill, but told him he must take the budgeting class before he could be helped again.
We liked the idea of the budgeting class. ACIM pays for the course through donations. Sue said it is taught by the extension service a few times a year. Each class has 4 evening sessions held in the ACIM building. It covers topics such as needs vs. wants, saving to pay upcoming bills, and budgeting. Apparently, when people first go, they feel like they have to be there and display a look of unreceptive defiance. But as the course continues, it makes sense and students learn something. Only 2 people have said they didn’t learn anything from it, and one of those has asked to come back and take it again.

After this, we helped in the food pantry. Clients can only obtain food assistance once each 3 months. The process is like this:
  • If a client needs food, an interviewer fills out a slip of paper with the number of people in the family, whether they are children, adults, or seniors, and whether they are to receive ACIM food, federal TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program, available to anyone who is receiving SNAP benefits), or both. In most cases, clients receive both.
  • Pantry workers fill boxes with food for the family, without knowing who is getting the food. Clients receive one of each item per family member; they have no choice on what foods they will be given. We noticed a few foods that were in larger packages (macaroni and rice, for example), and these packages were only given to large families.
  • After the boxes for a client are filled, one of the pantry workers helps the client load the food into their car.
Most of the food available at the pantry was shelf-stable items like canned or packaged goods. There were some fresh breads and sweets from local grocery stores. Meat from the local grocery stores (about to expire) had been frozen in their packages at the store, and was kept and distributed frozen at the food pantry.

There were no fresh fruits or vegetables when we were there, and we were told that little fresh produce was available. When ACIM does get produce, it’s usually quite old and needs to be sorted and used quickly. This isn’t practical for the ACIM pantry, so they usually give it to the local soup kitchen or set it outside for anyone to take.

The ACIM pantry has a different feel than some other pantries we’ve visited. The focus of the agency is clearly on helping people handle emergency needs and avoid financial emergencies in the future. It is not meant to help people with ongoing needs – for that, clients are referred to other federal or state assistance programs.

We were impressed by ACIM’s centralization of services. Because all the churches have gone together to support this one organization, individual churches don’t need to handle separate requests for aid, people in need have a single place to go for assistance, and the same rules apply to everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment