Archived Story

Niles non-profit in need of salvation

Published 9:39pm Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Niles Daily Star

The Salvation Army is known for its presence during the holiday season when the snow clings to the streets and the chill sets in the bones.

Maybe it’s something about the cold that resonates with people that there are those in need of heat and a safe home, of food and shelter and security.

But those needs — pun intended — seem to heat up in summer.

With rising temperatures comes the danger facing those who cannot pay to keep their air conditioners running, and displacement knows no season.

Jan Nowak, social services director, said the need in Niles is so great that in some cases they simply have nothing left to give.

Whereas the Salvation Army offers rent and utility assistance — they currently do not have any remaining funds to provide that assistance to those that need it.

“The frightening thing for me this year at this time is that unemployment benefits for so many of our friends have run out,” said Jan Nowak, social services director for the Salvation Army in Niles. “There isn’t another extension, there isn’t a next renewal… While we are keeping pace with the request, I’m concerned about what’s around the corner.”

Requests for rent assistance are up.

“I have seen more rent requests this year than I have seen in the three years I’ve been here,” she said. “Utility requests have been huge this year.”

Nowak said the organization received an increase in grant funds this year but with a simultaneous increase in area need they were just able to meet the needs of those requests.

“So we weren’t ahead,” she said.

When it comes to help the Salvation Army may not be able to give, Nowak said she refers people to other area agencies.

“If I can refer them somewhere, I feel like I’m still helping them,” she said.

For those suffering through economic distress, faced with the inability to make ends meet, to put food on the table, charitable organizations like the Salvation Army in Niles have been a resource or a “plan B” when the original plan is no longer possible.

Likewise, such organizations are not without a plan B of their own, backup organizations and charities to refer people to when the need becomes so great it outgrows any available resources.

For the Salvation Army in Niles, helping those members of the community who continue to live under great need there is a public plea for help from the community just a couple of weeks after their primary backup for the area went out of commission.

“I pride this office on being a good resource for referrals,” said Nowak.

For those in need of household items such as bedding and clothing, for which Nowak said she receives “several requests for things like that, per week, historically we have referred them to Neighbor To Neighbor.”

Neighbor To Neighbor is an “Adventist Community Services Center” located in Berrien Springs — the closest organization Nowak can send those in need of assistance to.

The organization suffered a fire July 7 that has crippled its operations.

“It was fairly extensive (damage),” said Neighbor To Neighbor’s executive director Laura Meyer.

“What was mostly extensively damaged was our processing area,” she said. “So that pretty much shuts us down completely.”

Meyer said officials ruled the fire an arson. Neighbor To Neighbor has been in its current facility, a primarily brick building, for 35 years and has been serving the community for 95 years.

The fire is still under investigation. Meyer said she is unsure of an exact date for when the organization will be operational again.

“We’re not sure of the timeframe,” she said. “It’ll be several weeks.”

“When I heard they had a fire, I was crestfallen,” Nowak said. “There is not another plan B. There is not another agency that can fill this gap.”

And the gap is significant.

“The community as a whole, whether churched or unchurched, needs to recognize the fact that there is a great hurt in their own backyard, right next door,” Nowak said. Backpack supplies, food and volunteer services would be appreciated, she said.

Meyer said Neighbor To Neighbor is telling those in need to contact the countywide service and dial  211. For food assistance she suggests the Benton Harbor area’s Food Link at (877) 535-9248.

Meanwhile the Salvation Army is making another plea to the public.

“The problem with putting my finger on one need is that there isn’t just one need,” Nowak said. “It’s a spider web… I’ve found over the years that people generally will step up if you ask them. I’m asking the community to step up.”

To contact the Salvation Army, call 684-2720.

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