Trisha — who asked that her last name not be used — had been a Catholic Charities volunteer in the past. But now, as she struggles on her own to raise six children ranging in age from 2 to 14, she’s a Catholic Charities client.
Trisha called Catholic Charities of Livingston County as her gas and electric were about to be shut off. She had fallen on hard times after having recently separated from her husband and was undergoing treatment for stage 1 breast cancer, which fortunately had been caught early.
Trisha’s only income is $300 a week in child support; she has been attending college and plans to graduate in May with an associate’s degree as a teacher’s assistant.
“Trying to raise six kids on my own and going to school, it’s been pretty hard,” Trisha said.
Trisha received $150 in funds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal to keep her power on. She also was referred to another agency that helped to reduce her debt to the utility company and received clothing, diapers and personal-care items from Catholic Charities.
“The kids grow out of their clothes, and I take them all over to Catholic Charities,” Trisha said.
Last year, Catholic Charities of Livingston County’s Rural Outreach program, which provided Trisha with emergency assistance using appeal funds, helped 2,262 individuals from 862 families with food, clothing, shelter, utility and medical-cost assistance, said Tina Brooks, the program’s director.
With rising energy costs, emergency aid to help keep heat and other utilities on or turn them back on is the most-requested need, said Joseph DiMino, executive director of Catholic Charities of Livingston County.
“Far and away, the top request for the last four years is utility assistance,” DiMino said.
During last year, the program helped 369 individuals with emergency utility assistance. Catholic Charities of Livingston County did so by using monies from the Christmas Appeal as well as from the Livingston Emergency Assistance Fund, a pool of money from private donations and fundraisers at area churches, including the annual Eat for Heat spaghetti dinner at Livonia’s St. Matthew Parish.
Last year, the Livingston Emergency Assistance fund paid out $22,000 to help Livingston County residents prevent utility shutoffs, avoid eviction and buy emergency prescriptions for the uninsured.
“We see ourselves as the last line of defense,” DiMino said. “We try to make sure they (people seeking assistance) have taken care of their issues, first and foremost, and then we send them to any other organizations that can help.”
The Home Energy Assistance Program, the federally-funded program that pays benefits to help people prevent or reverse a heating shutoff, helps those with very limited incomes, and only is available from November to March, DiMino said. Right now, as HEAP funds are available, those who do not qualify for HEAP, including the working poor and senior citizens, are seeking help from Rural Outreach.
“At least once a week, someone is saying the sentence, ‘I’ve never had to ask for help before,'” DiMino said. “They are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet.”
Trisha said she is grateful to Catholic Charities and to Brooks, her case manager, for the help and encouragement they have given her. Though the emergency assistance and a school-tax rebate have helped her get caught up on many bills, Trisha said she is worried about falling behind again.
“There are times where I’ve needed something, and I’ve gone without because my kids come first,” Trisha said.
Christmas this year will be lean, she noted.
“I have bought one big present to have under the tree,” Trisha said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘What else can I try and do for Christmas?'”