Demand for charity services

Contrary to many people’s perceptions, demand at food pantries is constant throughout the year.

Laurie Schmit of the St. Vincent de Paul Diocesan Council of Marquette says many people believe Christmastime is the peak of demand for the year, but that’s actually summertime since kids are home more.

She says demand for food pantries never really slows down.

And when fuel prices rise, as they have in the last month or so, heating costs also rise.

Schmit says mild winters can help curb demand for heating assistance funding a bit, but whenever a strong winter storm like the one most of the U.P. saw this week rolls around, demand for assistance picks up because people are using more utilities.

Case manager Liz Nevala of the Ishpeming Salvation Army says seniors have been seeking assistance more and more often lately, since fixed incomes don’t keep pace with those rising prices and seniors sometimes are forced to choose between paying for food, medications and heat.

But how much demand for these services was out there in 2012?

Schmidt said in an e–mail, “…the amount of  financial assistance SVdP provided grew 9% from 2 years ago. This year (referring to 2012) the 33 conferences spent $860,605 in direct assistance for rent, utilities, food, etc.”

The 33 conferences refers to the entire Saint Vincent de Paul organization across the Upper Peninsula.

Nevala says the Ishpeming Salvation Army provided direct assistance to more than 350 people and 150 families in 2012, with more than $60,000 in utility assistance.

The job market isn’t as robust as it should be, and many people who are still working are contending with stagnant wages or having their hours cut.

Nevala says it’s sad that the numbers of working poor — residents who work full-time but don’t earn enough to get by — are increasing.

However, demand on the Ishpeming Salvation Army’s heating assistance funds isn’t as strong this winter as last year.

The Michigan Department of Human Services has extra funding from the state that it didn’t have last year, and Nevala suggests checking with DHS first if you need utility help.