Help available for locals during tough times
By SALLY BRZOZOWSKI
The snow is finally melting as better weather comes to New Hampshire, but there is no such indicator that the economy will improve at the same rate, or anytime soon.
However, many communities have programs and practices in place to help residents who are finding it hard to make ends meet. Whether providing warmth or distributing food, volunteer and government efforts continue to support members of the community throughout the year, in all seasons.
On a Wednesday night in Goffstown, the presence of the Goffstown Network Food Pantry is indicated not only by signs on the side of a building, but also by a line of people waiting for the doors to open. Inside, volunteers continue to sort canned items and pack boxes of donated groceries, anticipating a large crowd.
“Generally speaking, the demand we see follows the economy,” said Dave Greiner, president of the Goffstown Network. “In a good economy we see fewer people, in a bad economy we see many more.”
He said the economic problems of the last year have led to a record demand, almost twice what the pantry saw two years ago. Community contributions have increased to match the enhanced need, and Greiner said he is “amazed, delighted” with local support.
The pantry serves more than 350 people a month, and distributes thousands of pounds of food every week.
“The stories we’ve been hearing are exactly what we’re expecting to hear,” said Greiner. “Unemployment, underemployment and now for the first time, financial problems because of a lack of medical insurance.”
At the New Boston Town Hall, the problems continue. Welfare administrator Burton Raymond has helped residents before, but he said that the people he has seen this year are different.
“I’m seeing people who are ordinarily employed,” said Raymond. “This is the first time they’ve had to ask for assistance of any type. Lots of times, the people are able to keep their heads above water, exclusive of rent.”
Raymond provides a variety of assistance to the residents who come into his office. He helps them get family assistance and qualify for food stamps, and even helps them look over their budget to make sure they’re using the money they have as efficiently as they can.
“We’re in the business of helping people with their core needs,” he said. “Shelter, food, required medications, heat. The ability to get back and forth to a job, if they have one.”
There is no limit to this part of the budget because it’s a government responsibility, Raymond said.
“It’s one of the older laws on the books, that we’re supposed to take care of those who are having difficulties.”
In Hopkinton, community responsibility is taken even more literally.
There, the town has enabled a wood bank to help heat the homes of residents. As part of the Wood for Warmth program, the Sean Powers Wood Bank provides residents in need with hardwood that they can burn in order to deflect the high cost of heating oil. By obtaining a voucher from the town’s Human Services Department, people can pick up wood whenever the transfer station is open.
“I was worried that, being New Hampshire, that people would be too proud to ask for help,” said Mary Congoran, who helps with the Wood for Warmth program.
On the last volunteer day, her group stacked almost 11 cords of wood. Today, only two or three cords remain.
She hopes more wood will come in as the snow melts and people donate limbs and branches that may have fallen during the winter’s ice storms. Her volunteers are even able to come pick up wood from nearby homes to bring it to the wood bank; anything to make it easier to help the community.
With all these organizations, the same message persists: they want to help.
“We’re here to help,” said Greiner. “If people are struggling to make ends meet, come in. If it’s a choice between food and medicine, come in.”