Good Samaritan Ministries Director Wells: Donations drop due to economic slowdown

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

  
JOHNSON CITY -- The economic slowdown which occurred as a result of the 9-11 terrorist attacks has caused hard times for some local organizations and agencies that serve the area's homeless and other less fortunate individuals, according to Sarah Wells, director of Good Samaritan Ministries.
   "We're not at the point of closing, but if we continue as we are, I don't see how we could stay open," remarked Wells, who said 82 percent of Good Samaritan's income goes to meet clients' needs in benevolent services.
   Wells says 9-11 "caused people to go into shock for quite some time, and monies were not being given. Nothing was going on really well in our lives at that time, and I understand that."
   The plunge of the stock market has resulted "in a horrible year" for the charities which normally receive donations when people sell their stocks, Wells said. Charitable resources are also being "drained" by an increased number of those seeking assistance. Even if contributions were at last year's level, the incoming funds wouldn't be nearly enough to meet the need, according to Wells. "We are seeing a 40-50 percent increase in those coming to us for the first time," she said.
   "These are people who have never had to ask for help. It's very sad when you see them come in. They don't know how to go through the system. They don't even know what to ask for.
   "Right now, we are in a crucial, critical situation. We just had our annual fund-raiser. Last year, we came out with monies that helped us to get through, this year we didn't do that. We are approximately $400 behind in meeting what the needs were to have a fund-raiser, and that's a very disheartening thing. Our operational funds are at the lowest that they have been this year. I'm not just trying to scare people. That's a very frightening thing to me."
   Some employees' hours have been cut at both Good Samaritan Ministries and Good Shepherd Day Center, according to Wells. "That is not an easy thing to do," she said.
   The agency currently has only $400 available to be used for benevolence. "That doesn't go far," she said. "I can do that in just a few minutes. Yesterday, we had needs presented in the amount of $2,200, so you can see how that $400 would be wiped out. These included certified medical needs with doctors' statements, power bills and rent."
   The food account is so low that it is only being used for Thanksgiving and Christmas purposes. "I can't go shopping right now for my regular food pantry, for people that come in on a daily basis," Wells said.
   With unseasonably cold temperatures, Wells says that when it comes to helping those with heating bills, she is "very concerned about what's going to be happening throughout the rest of the winter. We are in a critical situation in our community that's not going to be relieved in one week.
   "Right now, I don't what to do except to pray, trust in God and wait. I need prayer support from the community, that God will provide for the needs and that no one will be left out, whether they be elderly, those with special needs, our children or an individual who is alone and disabled.
   "This has truly been the hardest-hit year for any agency," said Wells, who encourages churches and other organizations to conduct food and blanket drives. "We're all hearing the question, 'What do we do now?' It's almost to a point of desperation inside. We have to have one another. One agency cannot supply all the needs of our communities' less fortunate residents.
   "We have to have each other working together to meet those needs, so we need to help each other stay in business, pure and simple. We must all stay viable in order to be in that continuum of care for those that are hurting.
   "Our Thanksgiving has been pretty well covered, with most everyone getting a basket," Wells said. "Extra donations of food, turkeys or pre-cooked hams will help us to fill those last few orders for those seeking help for Thanksgiving."
   Local residents can prepare and deliver a Christmas or Thanksgiving basket to Good Samaritan Ministries, or send a contribution of $30 to cover the cost of preparing a basket. Volunteers are also needed to deliver Thanksgiving baskets and hot meals to Carter County clients, according to Wells.
   Christmas gifts for the children are a priority at Good Samaritan Ministries, Wells said. At least one toy for each child is placed in each Christmas basket for families with children. About 225 of the approximately 425 families still need a sponsor for both a food basket, clothes and toys.
   Good Samaritan will host a Christmas party for its clients at Tacoma Church of God on Dec. 21. "We need people to prepare food to bring in to us so that our families will be fed," Wells said. "After our program, they receive gifts to take home with them to put under their tree. We need lots of volunteers to come and help us through this time."
   Good Samaritan assists the elderly and homebound, as well as hospice patients. "Ever since my brother passed away two years ago on Nov. 14, I've made sure that hospice families get that extra love," Wells said.
   Approximately 40 additional baskets need to be prepared for those "who are adult in body but they may have Down Syndrome. They are special friends with that childlike nature that need to be remembered with a gift. They are living in group homes, that type of thing. We are seeing to it that they are not forgotten."
   Wells encourages residents of Elizabethton and Carter County to participate in the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program through the Elizabethton Electric System. Residents can have a designated amount added to their electric bills, and the funds are disbursed through the United Way to low-income families.
   "If every church were to ask its members to give one dollar, and every church received an offering on the designated Sunday and gave that money to the Carter County United Way, that would help Carter Countians to have their heating bills paid through the wintertime if they are serviced through the Elizabethton Electric System."
   Wells also encourages churches, businesses and individuals to become active in whatever way they can to help the area's less fortunate residents.
   Begun in 1985, Good Samaritan Ministries serves six counties: Carter, Washington, Unicoi, Greene, Sullivan and Johnson. Good Samaritan Ministries coordinates efforts of agencies in all counties to ensure services are not overlapped, through the use of Charity Check.
   For more information, call 928-0288 or e-mail sarah@goodsamaritanministries.com.