A social worker recently visited the home of a single mom and her four kids. Despite the efforts of the mom, who worked full time to keep a roof over their heads, she could barely afford to furnish the place.
She shared a bed with her 3-year-old. Her oldest, a teenager, slept on a bed supported on one end by an air conditioning unit.
The social worker knew this family deserved better. So, she reached out on behalf of this mom to a friend she knew volunteered with the Levittown-Bristol Kiwanis Club. The club in turn, provided new bed frames, mattresses, box springs and beddings for each of the four kids.
It’s an all-too-common story. A mom is doing everything she can, but she doesn’t have enough to pay for the things her family needs, explained Kiwanis member and president-elect Jill Saul.
“She works full time, but she’s the working poor and doesn’t have a lot of money,” said Saul. “When people are struggling and don’t ask for help, and someone is able to help them and lift them, then their lives change. And their outlook on the world changes.”
Often people aren’t sure where to turn for help, explained Mary Berman, a Kiwanis board member and past-president.
“For a lot of these families, we may be the first contact they make because there may be an immediate need, and then after that immediate need is met, it’s necessary for them to get involved with another organization to help them rectify the situation in the long term,” said Berman, emphasizing the large role local social service agencies play in meeting the expanding needs of the community.
Throughout Bucks County, countless children, senior citizens and families were already struggling to make it. For those just getting by, the addition of pandemic- and weather-related problems, brought many to their knees, explained Marissa Christie, president and CEO of the United Way of Bucks County.
“We thought last year was going to be our toughest year, but this year has given us more new challenges than we ever anticipated,” said Christie.
“These are folks who are working sometimes more than one job and still struggling to make ends meet. In general, a financial emergency can really create huge problems for these families.”
It is within this time of increasing need that The Intelligencer, along with the Bucks County Opportunity Council, is running its annual Give A Christmas campaign, which relies on the generosity of the community to directly help families in need in Central and Upper Bucks County, and eastern Montgomery County, during the holidays.
To add to the challenges, a shortage in teachers and daycare workers, has left working parents scrambling to find safe and reliable childcare options, said Christie.
A lack of affordable housing also remains a huge concern, according to Erin Lukoss, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council. Many working parents, for example, struggle to earn enough income to pay rent and still be able to meet other basic needs, such as food and childcare, she noted.
“The people who have the greatest challenge are those who are working and earning a decent wage, but the wage doesn’t support the cost of living here in Bucks County,” said Lukoss.
Food-insecurity and access to mental health and addiction services are additional barriers, local nonprofit organizations, like Family Service Association of Bucks County, have continued working to address.
“The last year has been challenging for everybody in different ways … In the past year, we have seen a dramatic increase in the need for all of our services. In fact, the number of clients our agency serves has grown from 29,503 in 2020 to an anticipated number in excess of 30,000 over the past year,” said Brian Treanor, grants and communications manager with Family Service.
This increase has been significant across all services, explained Treanor, including Family Service’s Contact Help Line, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, emergency homeless shelter, HIV/AIDS program, food pantry, Family strengthening program, behavioral health program, and new ride-along program.
Regardless, these agencies have remained committed, even as the need for help continues to expand.
“Family Service has countless heroes, many of whom have been on the front lines since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when uncertainty was at its peak. … Our staff, volunteers, community partners, and generous donors have helped us achieve what seemed impossible: for hope and help to continue. For that, we could not be more grateful,” said Julie Dees, CEO of Family Service.
When the problems seem too vast to overcome, Lukoss reflects on the outcomes her staff and volunteers witness with each opportunity to help.
“It is a huge problem, and it could feel unsolvable. But every time we are able to help a family move into their new home and we see the relief and the happiness on their faces, that’s why we keep going because if we give up, we’re giving up on our community. Everybody deserves their shot at happiness. And at the end of the day, that’s all anyone wants, is to have their family together and to meet their needs. And we can’t do it alone, we need the help of the community,” said Lukoss.
This help, from individuals and organizations across the county – no matter how big or small – adds up and makes a real difference, Christie said.
“None of us can do everything, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. No matter what kind of contribution you can make, it’s going to impact on someone and it’s going to be comfort to someone and it’s going to make someone feel part of a community. That’s the best we can do for each other is come together as a community and help when and where we can,” said Christie.
And when the community steps up, programs like Give a Christmas, can help restore a little bit of what was lost this past year, so everyone has a chance to experience a little joy this holiday season.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made Christmas different for most of us, but for some families, it has not only made it different, but difficult,” said Berman. “Even a small donation will help a needy family to survive the impact that COVID-19 has had on their lives. Any donation will help to keep the spirit of giving alive at Christmas.”
— Michele Haddon, Special to The Intelligencer