Caring Hands in Jeff Davis sees rise in applicants for utilities assistance

Published 1:08 pm Sunday, January 22, 2023

Caring Hands, a non-profit service in Jeff Davis Parish, is seeing an increase in applicants seeking assistance with utilities as local families struggle to make ends meet.

“I definitely think the numbers are going up,” Caring Hands President Kirsti Davidson said. “Our numbers doubled last year due to increasing utility rates.”

More than 140 people were helped last year with September being the busiest month. The non-profit expects the need for assistance to continue to increase as financial struggles become greater for those living at or below the poverty level.

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“Our 2022 donations and assistance were almost equal,” Davidson said. “Our donations from churches and individuals for 2022 was $25,868 and our assistance to clients was $25,903.”

Donations in 2021 were about $17,000 and assistance was around $6,000 due to the pandemic and hurricane damages to the Caring Hands thrift store which was located on Main Street in Jennings, Roof and water damage following Hurricane Laura forced the building to close.

With no storefront to operate, Caring Hands is now helping those who are on a fixed income or just having a difficult time with the inflation by phone.

“Our mission is to provide monetary assistance to the needy and relief to the indigent of the community and for the general welfare of our community,” Davidson said.

To apply for assistance people should contact Operations Manager Sherry Hieronymus. Hieronymus screens callers to see if they meet the criteria for assistance and makes appointments for those who qualify. She meets with qualified applicants by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Jeff Davis Parish Library.

“The storefront was nice, but we were having to pay for the building every month and an employee to manage things, this way it is more focused and we can give more to the clients because we have very little overhead (expenses),” Davidson said.

In the past Caring Hands assisted with utilities, but also helped clients with clothing, school uniforms and other needs through donations from the community. Its focus now is on providing assistance with utilities including electricity, water and gas for homes. Telephone assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis and information is available for free government issued cell phones.

“We want to be able to have the freedom to help people that come along because everybody’s situation is different,” Davidson said. “We’ve had to back off on a few things like hotel rooms and rent, but we will help them find other avenues if it is not something we do.”

Assistance recently increased from $200 to $250 per person every six months. All assistance is paid directly to the utility company.

To qualify, applicants must be Jeff Davis Parish residents and meet the federal poverty and household income guidelines.

Caring Hands is able to assist clients with monetary contributions from area churches, individuals and organizations. Any church that wants to be a member of Caring Hands pays a $300 annual membership which helps support the organization.

“To be a member means they have a voting board member who votes on the direction the organization takes,” Davidson said.

Those interested in becoming a member should contact Caring Hands.

The board of directors is an all volunteer board who meets quarterly on the third Monday of the month at different churches in the parish. The next meeting is 6 p.m  April 17 at the Jennings United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall, 702 Cary Avenue.

“Anyone is welcome to come to our meetings,” Davidson said. “If they are just curious about being part of the organization, just come to the meeting. It’s a group that really works well together and people are glad to be there.”

Davidson said the group’s goal this year is to involve more churches, especially those in the Elton and Lacassine area.

“Any church anywhere in Jeff Davis Parish is welcomed,” she said. “We would love to increase our coffers to help more people and let more people in the communities know about Caring Hands.”

Davidson would also like to expand Caring Hands services to offer more financial counseling services to clients to include finding training programs to help clients or help someone learn to read to help them obtain employment.

“Something to help people not with just a hand out, but a hand up,” she said.

The group is in the process of updating its Facebook page to include testimonial videos from past clients.

Anyone in need of assistance or who would like to donate to Caring Hands should call 337-246-1820.