The face of poverty is changing, and it doesn’t look too different from you and me.
"People have a certain image of people in need — they have low incomes or they’re homeless," said Jan Harada, president and CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii. "But we’re also seeing families like you and me, your neighbor — people who never thought they would have to access our services back in 2008.
"They’ve been unemployed for weeks or months, or maybe their family has been hit with sky-high medical bills and they’ve fallen behind in their rent."
The Star-Advertiser is sponsoring the annual Good Neighbor Fund holiday drive in partnership with Helping Hands. The newspaper will publish stories until year’s end to bring about a bit of Christmas cheer to people in its Adopt-A-Family program, whose lives have been sorely affected by what could be the smallest stroke of bad luck or timing.
"Helping Hands Hawaii means the difference between hope and despair, between sickness and health, between stagnation and growth," says the nonprofit’s website, www.helpinghandshawaii.orgwww.helpinghandshawaii.org.
DONATIONS TO STAR-ADVERTISER GOOD NEIGHBOR FUND
With the consolidation of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser into the Star-Advertiser this year, the newspapers’ Christmas drives have been combined under the Good Neighbor Fund.
With the struggling economy, it’s no surprise that requests for help have flooded in, and donations from the public and every resource have fallen since last year, Harada said.
"There has been a decrease in their ability to help," she said. "It doesn’t mean they are numb" to the appeals for help.
"I always find it amazing and humbling to see how people who make a little, who don’t have much — if they have a little extra $20, $50, they want to give it," said Harada, who was executive director of Palama Settlement before her appointment in July as Helping Hands president.
"We give out 100 percent of what comes in, mostly for rent, utilities and bus passes," she added.
Scott Morishige, manager of the Adopt-A-Family program and the Community Clearinghouse, a collection and distribution site for material donations year-round at 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, said donations totaled $193,614 last year and 508 households (1,735 individuals) received help for essential housing costs.
In October 2009, $19,329 in emergency financial assistance was distributed, compared to $21,282 last month, he said.
"In the past, a large number of people requesting assistance were living in public housing or emergency shelters, which typically have lower rents," he said. "We see more working families who live in private rentals being referred to us."
Their requests are higher because their rent is higher, he added.
Household appliances, from large to small, are the material goods most in demand; then mattresses or beds, which have to be new for the sake of hygiene, Harada said. Food is also a priority for its small pantry.
Working in partnership with Helping Hands are 40 agencies, which include Alu Like Inc., Catholic Charities Hawaii, the state departments of Health and Human Services; the Domestic Violence Action Center, the Institute for Human Services, PACT, the Salvation Army, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and the Weinberg Village Waimanalo.
Harada said Helping Hands’ clients must be referred by a government or nonprofit agency, which screens them to "make sure that our resources are spent on families actually in need."