Need increasing for help over the holidays

By Lynn R. Parks

Chas Engel is a rescuer in times of trouble. Coordinator with his wife, Debbie, of the two Salvation Army sites in Sussex County, Engel is the man people turn to when they need help buying food or paying bills. On Monday alone, nearly 70 people called him to ask for advice or for help in making ends meet. "One guy called in because he was riding on a bus. When it stopped at a bus stop he went to the bathroom and by the time he came out it had left," Engel says. "I ended up driving him to Salisbury. Another called to tell me that he was going to be homeless in two days, and wondered what he was supposed to do." This time of year, Engel is also the man parents turn to when they can't afford to buy Christmas gifts for their children. Of those nearly 70 calls on Monday, more than 30 were from parents who did not have the money to buy anything to put under the tree. "We are basically here to help your neighbors who are having a rough time," Engel says. And this year, with an unemployment rate in Sussex County of more than 8 percent and many self-employed contractors out of work, the need is greater than in previous years. Last fiscal year, from October 2008 through September, the Salvation Army in Sussex County helped 6,600 people. "This year, we will help more," Engel says. Requests for food assistance alone are up 30 percent, he adds. At the same time, donations that the local organization relies on are down. "This year, when our requests for assistance are up, donations aren't coming in," Engel says. Last year, the Salvation Army in Sussex County received $180,000 in cash and in-kind gifts. All of that money went to help people in the county. Of that amount, about $100,000 was raised in the six weeks before Christmas, during the Salvation Army's annual kettle drive. Kettles are out again this year about 20 of them throughout Sussex County, manned by more than 1,200 volunteers ringing bells but people aren't putting as much money in them as they did last year. "We are not on course to raise this year what we did last year," Engel says. Donations are also needed for Operation Share, the program that Engel runs with the Delaware Electric Cooperative and Delmarva Power.

People contribute money through the power companies and Engel distributes that money to households that need help paying electric bills. Funds for Delmarva Power customers ran out in September, Engel says. "Of the co-op funds, we still have a little bit left," he adds. Engel says that he wants Sussex Countians who are out shopping and who see a red kettle or hear a Salvation Army volunteer ringing a bell to think about who the money that they put in that kettle is helping. "I want them to understand that what goes into the kettle helps their neighbors," he says. "And someday, money that someone else puts in might help them. A fair amount of the people coming in this year for help never thought that they would be in this boat." Especially hard hit, he says, are self-employed contractors who aren't covered by unemployment. "They lost their job, but they thought that another one would come along," he says. "Another one always did. But not this year." Engel says that the degree to which his office can help Sussex Countians depends on the amount people are willing to contribute. "We pretty much help those who we can with the resources the community wants to donate to help these people," he says. "We have all kinds of individuals and groups donating and volunteering to ring bells at our kettles every slice of society that you can think of. But now, we need a bigger slice." Despite this year's threatened shortages, Engel isn't sad or discouraged. "This is what we do. This is the Salvation Army," he says. "For me, it doesn't get any better than this. I know what Christmas is all about and that's what keeps me going."

For your information Donations to the Salvation Army of Sussex County can be mailed to its Seaford location at 22943 Sussex Highway. The food pantry next to Food Lion on U.S. 13 in Seaford is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For details, or to request help, call 628-2020.

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