SMCAA, First Presbyterian Church partner to help 50 families in need

NILES — On Friday, a group of volunteers bundled up in winter jackets and hats made a list and checked it twice.

The volunteers were assisting with the First Presbyterian Church of Niles partnership with Southwest Community Action Agency to distribute holiday food share boxes to those in need who had pre-registered with the agency.

Tammy Stanton, community service coordinator for the SMCAA, works in the partnership with the partnership to extend the services from SMCAA from north county to help residents in Niles. Friday’s distribution was hosted at the church, where the distribution included 28-pound food boxes, as well frozen turkeys, for the holiday food share program.

“We’ve done this for years and years up in Benton Harbor, in partnership with companies like Whirlpool,” Stanton said. “We had extended it down here last year.”

During the program’s first year in Niles, Stanton said the program served 25 families. This year, it has doubled to taking on 50 for the same food assistance program.

“It’s wonderful to be able to give back to the community,” Stanton said. “It’s nice that we also have everybody volunteering here from the church.”

While Stanton does not have an official office with the SMCAA in Niles, she has an office inside the church where she begins processing phone calls and forms a couple of days a week.

“There’s a real need in Niles,” Stanton said. “It’s inconvenient to drive up to north county. If you’re working, you don’t necessarily have an extra three hours to get in the car and drive up there and take care of business during business hours, even if you do have the money to drive.”

Stanton said the SMCAA partnered with the church where she now has an office in Niles. Being on the ground, however, means she sees exactly how much need for assistance there is in the area.

“We can’t handle the applications,” Stanton said. “I’m already backlogged two weeks at a time.”

While years past have been busy, Stanton said this year has been exceptional.

She still drives up to Benton Harbor three Thursdays a month to finish paperwork, but said the stacks have only seemed to grow this year.

SMCAA helps connect residents with food assistance, energy assistance in the form of disconnect preventions, housing assistance in eviction prevention, as well as weatherization with home issues occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation assistance and helping navigate the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, for applying for state emergency relief, co-pay assistance and resolving issues.

Due to SMCAA being so busy, Stanton processes intakes and applications for the aid they can provide, including the food boxes distributed on Friday.

The agency has partnered with local area agencies to help connect residents to other wraparound services to keep people fed and clothed through the year, as well.

To seek services with SMCAA in the Niles area, residents may contact through the agency’s website, smcaa.com, or by contacting Stanton at (269) 635-3636 to get set up in the application process.

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