Helping Hand of South Whidbey, a 30-year old nonprofit charity staffed by a coalition of South Whidbey Christian churches, is attempting to get ahead of the curve of proposed federal budget cuts by announcing a “Warmth & Shelter” Fund Drive for the winter of 2011-2012’s expected increase of South Whidbey clients seeking help with heat, utilities, rent and mortgage payments. The charity operated on a $70,000 budget in 2010, (with 89% of expended funds going directly to help clients), and is hoping to increase that amount to $100,000 in 2011 through increased community donations and foundation grants.

“We’ve just come out of a long, cold winter,” said Executive Director Rosemary Martin, “and if this next winter is anything like the last one, we have real concerns about people in our community who will be without means to heat their homes or even stay in their rentals.” She cited a family with four young children, whose father had lost his job last December, and who had all been sleeping in their clothes to stay warm for three weeks before finally seeking assistance at Helping Hand to fill up their propane tank.

What concerns Martin most is a proposed 5o percent reduction in the federal Low Income Heat And Energy Program (LIHEAP) which would mean a cut of approximately $250,000 to Island County residents. This money is disbursed through the Opportunity Council of Island County to which Helping Hand refers clients. When the Opportunity Council runs out of funds or a client does not meet their funding criteria, Helping Hand is often able to help with crisis funding of vital services.

Of the 869 individuals who called or came to Helping Hand’s Langley office, 41 percent involved emergency heating and utility bills and 42 percent involved overdue rent or mortgage payments. Households representing 353 adults and 222 children had emergency heating, utility, rent and mortgage bills paid directly to utility companies and landlords on their behalf.

Helping Hand is part South Whidbey’s HELP Network and refers clients to other area nonprofits such as Good Cheer Food Bank and Friends of Friends Medical Fund or services such as woodcutting ministries or CMA’s Soup Kitchen.

“We are fortunate that South Whidbey has various groups working together to help families and individuals in crisis. Most people who live on South Whidbey are not even aware of some of the dire situations our neighbors are facing,” said Martin. Though the charity has often helped young single mothers and elderly individuals who have run low on resources, last year’s statistics showed a surprising upturn in middle aged individuals, many of whom had lost jobs and exhausted their unemployment benefits.