For the Help Line of Aiken County, the holiday season starts in October as families are desperately looking for assistance as Christmas approaches.
The calls to Help Line’s 2-1-1 service invariably increase during this time of year, said executive director Janis Leonard-Hoffman. The agency refers families in need to such agencies as ACTS, the Salvation Army and Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church.
“A lot of people struggle,” said Leonard-Hoffman. “Thirty-three percent of our calls this time of year are for utility assistance. Another 24 percent come from people who need help for rent. We don’t have the resources for that, but affordable housing is also available, and there is an HUD office in Aiken where people can apply and get on a waiting list.”
In October and November, Help Line received 350 to 450 calls each month, said Crystal Renew, the office and resource manager. Those numbers are similar to those at this time of year in 2011 and earlier, she said.
Vicki Bukovitz, executive director for Area Churches Together Serving, said her agency may get referrals from Help Line, as well as direct calls from families seeking help.
“There is always an increase in calls for everything from food and clothing to rent and utility assistance,” Bukovitz said. “We’re able to do that, partnering with other agencies like those with United Way and private programs like churches, Christ Central and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul through St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church.”
United Way’s partner agencies like the Aiken–Barnwell Community Action Agency and the Salvation Army, also provide needed resources, Bukovitz said.
“The bright spot in all this,” she said, “is how generous the community has been. We have gotten many calls about adopting people for the holidays.”
Help Line’s top referrals overall are to ACTS, the Salvation Army and Christ Central, Leonard-Hoffman said.
“We can be an agency that manages resources,” Leonard–Hoffman said. “If somebody would like to adopt a family or make a donation, call us and we could lead them to agencies they can contact. We have everything from every agency in our database.”