Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

The recession’s effect on my non-profit job in Charlotte

Dec 9, 2009 20:13 UTC

Following our Route to Recovery special report, we asked contributors from Associated Content to tell us their stories about the recession.

By Cheryl Williams

It was October 2008. I was sitting in the lobby at a doctor’s office in Charlotte, N.C., waiting for a physical for my new job. The waiting room was filled and all eyes were on the TV. The stock market was plummeting and it was clear that the American financial system was in crisis mode. Strangers who normally would never be speaking to each other were engaged in deep conversation about the economy. I remember thinking how blessed I was to have finally found a job.

I now work as a house mother at Angel House Maternity Home, a group home for pregnant women in Charlotte. Before coming to Angel House, most of our clients were homeless or living in shelters. Because our agency is non-profit, we felt far-removed at the time from anything going on with Wall Street. It didn’t take long for me to see how wrong I was.

In July, my boss informed us during an emergency meeting that the situation was bleak; there was a chance all of the maternity homes in the area would lose funding. She said she was preparing us for the possibility we might not have a job in the near future. Until she received the final word on budget cuts, she had to close the maternity home in August. This was bleak news for employees and for the women who lived at Angel House. They now had to find a place to stay for a month until we learned our fate.

To compensate, we cut back and have been more mindful of any kind of waste. We utilized the food bank more. We spent more conservatively. Not only were we worried we might lose our jobs, we were concerned for the pregnant women who could be forced back to the streets.

A month without a paycheck damaged my finances. Some bills did not get paid and late fees accrued. My husband had to pay for everything with a paycheck that doesn’t cover it all. I only work part-time, but the loss of $750 that month hurt. We cut 20 percent from our grocery and gasoline bills.

At work, the worry continued. In September, The Charlotte Observer reported fears of “another year of shriveled budgets” for many non-profit agencies in the area.

But after four weeks of closed doors, we learned our maternity home only lost part of its funding. We had to take a pay cut, but we’re relieved nonetheless. We can keep our jobs and the women can keep their homes.

Life is looking up a bit. But we proceed with caution on shaky financial ground.

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Soup kitchen feeds growing number of hungry people

Nov 17, 2009 17:16 UTC

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Well before the doors of the Urban Ministry Center open on Sunday mornings, there is a crowd of people, mostly men, milling around waiting for a meal the center provides for the homeless and the needy.

“This is actually a relatively quiet day for us,” said staff member Kathy Izard. “During the week we feed up to 400 people.”

Izard marshals volunteers with a friendly, but impressively efficient manner. It is clear that there is a premium on her time and she is making full use of her limited resources. Up to 10,000 volunteers a year donate time and food here. Izard spent years volunteering the kitchen.

“When you turn up you never know what food has been donated, so you just make something up on the spot,” she said. “So far we’ve never run out of food.”

Izard pauses to direct volunteers toward the kitchen and trains one on the spot on handing out mail.

“For many of the people we serve, this is their only address,” she explained. “If you don’t have an address, it’s hard to find work.”

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Izard said that the center has been seeing people that they have never seen before, people who have never needed free food but have been left without jobs and homes as a result of America’s longest and deepest recession since the 1930s.

“A lot of the people we see coming through were on the margins before the downturn,” she said. “When the recession hit, it took away their safety net.”

“Most of those people never thought they’d end up here,” she added.

Paul McDougald, 37, is waiting for a shower. He used to work in a warehouse unloading and loading trucks, but has been out of work since May 2008 and now sleeps at a homeless shelter.

“I’ve been trying to find a job ever since, but there’s nothing out there,” he said. “It’s real stressful. Without this place I would be in real trouble.”

“Some day the Lord is going to help me out of this,” he added.

The doors open at 11:15am and people file in, lining up in an orderly fashion to receive the day’s meal. Served on plastic trays, today it consists of a small salad, a slice of roast beef, a bread roll, green beans and potatoes and a cupcake.

The meal is eaten in virtual silence. Few people feel much like talking here.

While tucking into his food, Charlie Edwards, 58, said that “bad financial choices and unreliable so-called friends” had brought him to this point.

Unable to find work in his profession – circuit board manufacturing – he said he does not see any way forward in Charlotte.

“Work in my specialty is pretty much non-existent right now,” Edwards said. “If I could find anything that would pay a tolerable wage, I’d take it.”

“But who’s going to hire a 58-year-old for a job when they can hire a young man?” he asked. “People are not too interested in training someone my age.”

Liz Clasen-Kelly, the Urban Ministry Center’s associate executive director, said that although statistics do not exist on the age of people who come through the door,many of them are middle-aged men who lose out to younger men when trying to get back into the job market.

She said that since 2007 the number of people coming for the free meals the center hands out has risen 21 percent and is still climbing. One silver lining for the center: While there are more mouths to feed, the number of volunteers turning up to help has also increased.

“There has always been a history of inequity in America,” she said. “But the housing crisis has shown many people that this could happen to their neighbors. That awareness has encouraged them to volunteer.”

“It’s not a national policy, it doesn’t solve the problem of homelessness in this country,” she said. “But every little bit helps and we’re grateful for the many individual acts of generosity we see.”

Photo by Carlos Barria

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COMMENT

A special blessing on those that give so selflessly to help these people.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

A growing struggle to feed the hungry in central Texas

Nov 8, 2009 12:54 UTC

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KOSSE, Texas – By the time the mobile food pantry rolls to a halt in this struggling rural community of 479 people, the parking lot of the local social hall is already full and a line of people snakes out of the door.

Half a dozen ladies in their 50s and 60s swarms the truck and within minutes they have set up tables and are bagging up food with an efficiency and single-mindedness that is impressive to watch.

The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, which covers 21 counties and an area twice the size of the state of Massachusetts, makes monthly visits to Kosse. Every month this year it has set new records for the amount of food it hands out — currently about 2.2 million tons. CEO David Davenport said he expects that number to rise as unemployment forces ever more people to become “food insecure.”

“The makeup of the hunger line has changed a great deal over the past two years,” he said. “We’re seeing more educated people and those who have been laid of in well-paying industries like the tech sector.”

“These are people we would never have expected to see lining up for food two years ago,” Davenport added.

The food bank has seen a 60 percent increase in demand for free food and in some places, including parts of the state capitol Austin, demand is up 300 percent.

Jason Steelman, 32, who is here with his girlfriend Amber Nash, 22, was a computer software analyst – a trade he picked up in the armed forces – but hasn’t worked in his chosen field for more than three years. He managed to make ends meet working as a truck driver, but the recession put paid to that job.

“All the work that’s left in this area is either seasonal jobs on the farms or working at gas stations,” he said. “We have three kids between us to feed and it’s tough to put enough food on the table.”

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As Texas does not support the government food stamp program, the food bank is reliant on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local donors like supermarket chain HEB.

“Without HEB we’d have problems finding enough food to hand out,” Davenport said. “On the state government level there is an unbending political belief in Texas that when you’re in trouble you have to pull yourself up by your boot straps.”

“That’s assuming that you’re not too hungry to pull them up,” he added. “Or that you even have boots.”

The first time the food bank came here six months ago, 60 families showed up for food. That number has now reached nearly 170.

According to the most recent statistics from the USDA, more than one in 10 Americans had low or very low “food security” in 2007, even before a the recession that began in December of that year. The recession may have ended in the third quarter of this year, according to recent U.S. government statistics, but one in five Texans are now hungry, as are one in four children in the Lone Star state.

“It comes down to economic hardship,” said Kosse mayor Ben Daniel. “There aren’t many jobs in this area right now. It’s hard times for folks around here.”

Danee Binion, 21, here with her seven-month-old daughter Madison, looks after her disabled mother and mentally disabled sister. Her husband works on a ranch, but the full household has stretched their means.

“We need some help to get by,” she said.

Janice Procter, 49, said that he husband, 66, is retired and just had knee surgery, and they have two children at home under the age of 18.

“We’re finding it tough to make ends meet and every little helps,” she said.

Democratic Senator Kirk Watson said that “Texas could do better in providing for its people,” and that the state government must take action as the level of hunger in parts of the state has reached crisis proportions.

“Our political leadership should be ashamed of itself,” he said. “Here we are in a state that produces enough food to supply the entire country. Yet we can’t even feed our own people.”

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Photos by Lucy Nicholson

COMMENT

I have difficulty having sympathy for the people of Texas. The “political establishment” that doesn’t want to provide food stamps was voted into place by many of the people complaining about the system. If you don’t like it vote those folks out of office and change the law. You reap what you sow. If Texas has a crisis of not being able to feed it’s own people, it is their own making.

Posted by BB | Report as abusive
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