Demand outstrips supply for social agencies in Forsyth

by Keith Barber

Demand outstrips supply for social agencies in Forsyth

On the morning before Thanksgiving, Clyde Fitzgerald entered the shopping area of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina to find the shelves practically bare. Fitzgerald, executive director of the Food Bank, said those same shelves had been full just 24 hours prior, an illustration of the increased demand from the Food Bank’s 415 partner agencies during the holiday season. “We are in one of the worst economic times in anyone’s memory,” Fitzgerald said. “That has increased the demand on food from 30 to 100 percent. Many requesting food assistance are first-time requesters. They previously had jobs in tobacco, textiles and furniture. Those industries are cutting jobs and companies are closing their doors.” The NC Employment Security Commission website reports that, as of Sept. 30, there had been 27 business closings and nine employers that laid off workers in Forsyth County in 2008. The county’s unemployed labor force has increased by 48.8 percent in the past 12 months. Last month, Hanesbrands announced it would cut 210 corporate and management positions across the country, including 155 jobs in Winston-Salem. Cynthia Fearrington, development director for Crisis Control Ministry, said she sees the human toll of increased unemployment in Forsyth on a daily basis. Of the 35 to 40 individuals interviewed by case managers on Nov. 26, roughly half of those were first-time applicants, Fearrington said. Sonya Kurosky, executive director of Samaritan Ministries, said her agency served a record 427 lunches two months ago. The surge in demand for food and other services has taxed Samaritan’s limited resources, development director Anne Rudert said. “We’re projecting a shortfall,” Rudert said. “The need continues to grow here.” Mike Foster, development director for the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, said his agency is one of the few that’s actually had the luxury of expanding its services in the current economic climate. The New Life Center on Trade Street, which houses the mission’s “Transformers” program, was completed in July. The new facility has increased the mission’s bed capacity from 95 to 132. Despite the additional resources, the program still has 20 to 25 people on its waiting list. Job placements by the mission have decreased approximately 25 percent from a year ago, Foster said. The strain on Forsyth County’s poorest residents predated the widely publicized financial turmoil or recent months. The news of social services outstripped by demand in Forsyth is nothing new to Andrea Kurtz, . “In July, before the economy ever hit bottom, our shelters were full,” said Andrea Kurtz, executive director of Winston-Salem’s 10-year plan to fight chronic homelessness. “Our soup kitchens were at capacity because we don’t have the social service system to support people who have chronic disability and housing.” Margaret Elliott, executive director of Crisis Control Ministry, said her agency doesn’t have enough volunteer case managers to assist everyone who walks through the door. Agency records reflect a decrease in expenditures from a year ago, which Elliott attributes to a reduced volunteer staff not having the time to speak to hundreds of new clients. The Food Bank, Samaritan Ministries, Crisis Control and the Rescue Mission all reported no significant drop in financial support in recent months, but administrators express serious concerns regarding the bleak economic outlook for the area, and a possible drop in donations after Christmas. “Once the holiday season is over, that doesn’t mean the problem of hunger has gone away,” Fitzgerald said. “Hunger doesn’t take a holiday. People are just as hungry in January as they are in December.” Across the board, administrators at

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Luis Colon, a case manager at Crisis Control Ministry in Winston-Salem, interviews a client on Nov. 26. Roughly half of those who requested Crisis Control’s services the day before Thanksgiving were first-time requesters, Cynthia Fearrington, development director, said. (photo by Keith T.