MATTHEWS – The Matthews HELP Center is ratcheting up its efforts to help people in need this holiday season, as families turn to the nonprofit and others for help preparing a fitting Thanksgiving meal or putting presents under the tree.
The economy may be improving, but the numbers of people seeking help would suggest otherwise. National GDP and unemployment rates and economic growth are all percentages that sound important on news flashes, but they don’t matter for a family wondering if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table next Thursday – and there’s more families than ever this season asking that question.
“When you’re looking at your monthly expenses, you have to pay the electricity company what they say you owe; you have to pay the landlord what they say you owe – the one place you can vary where you spend is the grocery budget,” said Kim Rhodarmer, executive director of the Matthews HELP Center. “Over the past four years, our client numbers have increased 400 percent.”
This year is no different, as the group’s Thanksgiving Feast Program – a joint effort with Elevation Church – will feed 747 people this Thanksgiving. That’s an increase of 75 people over last year, which is a lot when the two organizations are relying on community donations to make the program a success. Matthews HELP Center provides Elevation with a list of clients in need, and Elevation reaches as many as possible – with the center helping as many additional families as it can.
The Holiday Adoption Program, which comes next but is already under way, pairs families in need of Christmas gifts with a sponsor in the community. The sponsor will receive a child’s Christmas wish list and purchase as many items on the list as possible. So, where many Christmas drives collect random toys and give them to children in need, the center’s drive will make sure children get something specific they are wishing for this season.
“Generic gifts aren’t purchased,” Rhodarmer said. “This is what the child really wants for Christmas.”
The center paired 944 people with sponsors last Christmas. That number is likely to rise this year, just like every other number the center has seen. Along with helping more people on Thanksgiving and seeing a 400 percent increase in clients, the center also has seen a 90 percent increase in the financial crisis assistance need it supplies in four years, and has hired additional staff to deal with the need.
Center organizers also have brought in a lot more volunteers, from 150 a week to 349 a week.
“We could not begin to facilitate the Thanksgiving Feast Program or Holiday Adoption Program without the overwhelming support and involvement of the community,” Rhodarmer said.
Part of that community support is through volunteerism. Jeb Gerhardt has volunteered since 2009, helping in the center’s food pantry.
“I’ve had grown men cry on the street because they are so thankful for having a week’s worth of food,” Gerhardt said of the food assistance project. And this time of year, Gerhardt said the center’s work hits home even more.
“We give them a turkey and try to make a bag with stuffing in it, green beans…,” he said. “That is the awesome thing about this because they aren’t just opening a can of Spam. They are getting a real meal.”
A new partnership between the center and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina helps those efforts, as the center can now purchase food from Second Harvest for cheaper than it can from a grocery store. That means people’s financial donations can be stretched further than ever before, Rhodarmer said.
Find more information on the center and how to help at its website, www.matthewshelpcenter.org. The center serves a five-mile radius from its location, at 119 N. Ames St., which includes portions of Charlotte, Indian Trail, Matthews, Mint Hill and Stallings. In addition to the two holiday programs, help is needed volunteering throughout the year, and food donations of pasta, jelly, canned meats and rice are needed year-round.