“I know God will provide,” says director. “He always has.”
Since CARES Food Pantry was founded in 2004 the organization has only run out of money twice - once in 2008 and now.
To avoid cutting services in ‘08 the non profit - which provides food and other aid to needy Pickens families - took out a loan. Now CARES Executive Director Larry Starr said the board of directors is again faced with the same difficult decision. Do they cut services or borrow money on faith, not knowing where or how it will be repaid?
“We’ve had to empty out our emergency funds, which was about $15,000,” said Starr, who explained that after their fiscal year ended this June they “had nothing left over. We had to start paying bills from the emergency fund or delay paying bills and now it’s gone.”
The cost of caring
Providing food to an average of 195 Pickens families a week this year - not to mention education and financial assistance - is expensive. The non-profit needs about $5,000 a week to sustain current operations.
One CARES client who picked up food last Friday said she doesn’t know what she would do without the help. This client has used the pantry on and off since 2005, but she hopes her new job at a local fast food chain will enable her to stop using CARES’ services.
“I get my meats and some bathroom supplies and lots of canned food, and I pick up food for my disabled roommate,” she said. “But I don’t come every week. If I don’t need it, I don’t come. I quit getting food for a while until I lost my job at Blue Star when they closed. I’m hoping my new job will help, but it’s three weeks until I get my first paycheck.”
CARES receives about 40 percent of its funding through grants and the other 60 percent through private donations from businesses, individuals and churches - but Starr said all of these revenue streams are down.
He said CARES applies for the same number of grants they have in the past, but the amount of money they receive is down about $25,000 annually. He also said donations from churches are down about $20,000 a year.
In an effort to soften the blow of dwindling donations, CARES launched a “Business Partner Program” in July that offers advertising support in exchange for monetary donations. Letters are being mailed to 100 local businesses requesting donations. So far eight of those have partnered with the food pantry.
Despite the unwelcome situation, Starr said he has faith God will come through.
“I’m concerned, but I know God has always provided CARES with money,” he said, “and I believe He will again. When we ran out of money in 2008 the community outpouring was amazing. After we announced our need publicly we received $66,000 in donations in six weeks. We would get donations from people I had never seen. You could feel God’s hand working.”
Starr said the “blessing money” of ‘08 not only let them pay off the line of credit, but allowed them to initiate a new Transportation, Childcare & other Critical Expenses Program. Since TCC was launched in April of 2010, CARES has spent $110,000 helping 230 clients go back to school to get their GED by providing funding for child care, gas and books.
“But we’re having to cut our financial assistance program some now,” Starr said. “We’re helping four less families a month with help on power bills, water and rent. It’s about $750 less a month.”
How you can help
While donations of canned goods are always welcome, Starr said the most effective donation is monetary. He said CARES can buy food from the Atlanta Food Pantry for cents on the dollar - just 16 cents per pound of food.
“We appreciate all donations, whatever they are, but compared to the two or more dollars you’d spend per pound at the grocery store we get way more bang for the buck with monetary donations,” he said. “We can get many times the food as you could from the grocer.”
If you would like to support CARES you can send your tax-deductible donation to CARES, Inc., P.O. Box 1342 Jasper, Ga. 30143. Checks can be made out to CARES, Inc.
Reach the non-profit by phone at 706-253-4777 or visit them online at www.pickenscares.org.