Special to the Sun-Gazette
Everyone has heard the old saying, "the gift that keeps on giving." Some spend their time wondering, "Is there really such a gift?" In time, the perfume bottle is empty; the food inevitably will perish and, while a gift to a charitable cause is a wonderful idea, it is difficult to ensure it stays local. Is there really a gift that continues to give throughout the year?
Signs of the holidays began cropping up weeks ago. Even before the turkey was on the table for Thanksgiving, people were beginning to wander store aisles in consideration of the perfect Christmas gift - and the stores were ready.
In just a few days, it will be Christmas. And in another week, Christmas 2012 will be another holiday to mark off the calendar. But it doesn't have to stop there. Lycoming County United Way believes in living united and giving united. That giving does not stop when Dec. 25 comes to an end. Last year, the money raised by LCUW helped make it possible to serve more than 46,000 individuals in Lycoming County. The needs of our neighbors continue to grow each year and with the support of the community, Lycoming County United Way strives to ensure that local agencies are able to provide the services that make life easier for those in need.
"The human service gifts we provide to those in need are accomplished via a detailed allocation process using a combination of community needs assessment surveys, panels of volunteers who review our program partner requests and outcomes and the combined knowledge we've all gained in our daily work with the human service community," explained Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "This process has significantly changed in the last four or five years as we have funded several new programs meeting emerging needs and discontinued funding of some other programs. We try and direct our funding to the most pressing needs."
In 2011, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank reported that it served more than 8,000 individuals who were in need of food.
Jamie L. Caputo, branch director, said that the demand for food in the county has increased significantly.
"Across the board we've been experiencing 15 to 20 percent increases with our agencies," Caputo said. "No county is really an exception."
She added that about 1,800 households in Lycoming County are accessing food on a monthly basis.
"That is just from the major food pantries," Caputo said. "That doesn't include shelters and soup kitchens. When you throw in the soup kitchens and shelters, it's easy to say there are 2,500 households accessing food monthly. We've got agencies that are serving 3,000 or more meals a month. And the winter really moves people back into the pantries."
Caputo said she expects the need to increase over the next year. Based on the economic predictions, it looks even scarier, she added.
"If some of those predictions come true, it looks like we are heading back into a recession and with a recession comes more needs at the pantries, kitchens and shelters," Caputo said.
Oftentimes, food and housing needs go hand-in-hand. The American Rescue Workers reported that it served 598 individuals last year.
According to Col. Dawn Astin, the American Rescue Workers has seen a turnover with homelessness that appears to be getting worse.
"I think it continues to get worse," Astin said. "We had a 75-year-old homeless veteran. That's a real problem with homeless vets and I don't see that improving. In fact, I think that's getting worse."
These, along with the needs of many others throughout the year, will continue to be met thanks to the support and donations to Lycoming County United Way.
"The numbers we are seeing seeking help from organizations like the Food Bank and the American Rescue Workers reveal the somewhat unseen but very real every day dilemma being faced by a growing number of families and individuals, the basic need to put food on the table," Lowery added. "The conditions that caused these unfavorable situations didn't develop overnight, nor are we going to be able to magically solve all of them. What we must continue to do is direct the dollars our contributors have entrusted to us in the most efficient manner possible to help those affected regain some stability to their lives."
Last year, LCUW supported 44 programs in the county at 23 local agencies, helping to meet the needs of those facing an emergency; those in need of transportation, counseling, a meal or shelter; as well as meeting dental, literacy and substance abuse needs.
"While we all love Santa Claus, our work is not all crammed into one night a year. For us and those we serve providing basic human needs and the very special services required to help improve the quality of life of so many is a 24-7-365 day job description," Lowery said.
For more information about Lycoming County United Way, visit www.lcuw.org or call 323-9448.