Gazette opinion: Common crises: Give a hand to working poor

2012-12-03T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Common crises: Give a hand to working poor The Billings Gazette
December 03, 2012 12:00 am

What are you going to do in the next seven days to take a step to improve your life?

That’s a hard question for many of the people who come into Family Service Inc. Executive director Paul Chinberg has instructed his staff to ask it because clients need to be thinking about making their lives better.

“Most of our clients are working, sometimes two or three jobs at minimum wage with no benefits like health insurance,” Chinberg said. Something as simple as a tire blowing out can tip them into financial crisis.

“They’re just living literally paycheck to paycheck.”

Most are Billings people, but lately there’s been an increase in clients from Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere.

“We are starting to see more new people. We are seeing a lot of families who came to work in the oil fields, but there was no place to live or they didn’t have the job skills. They come to Billings because it’s the largest city. They need help to tide them over till they can get back home.”

For more than 100 years, Family Service, a private, nonprofit Billings organization, has been helping people with basic needs: preventing hunger by distributing food, preventing homelessness by assisting with rent and utilities, providing needed clothing and household items.

Last year, Family Service Inc. distributed more than 1.5 million pounds of food through the Fresh Rescue program of the Montana Food Bank Network, Chinberg said. The food was donated by local retailers who sent items that were still wholesome, but nearing their “sell by” date. Family Service distributed some of that food to 14 other agencies.

“The No. 1 assistance request right now is food,” Chinberg said.

Chinberg also sees people who can’t pay their rent or utilities, including water bills.

“We’re buying propane for people living in campers,” he added. Some of those camper dwellers are families with children.

People are already lining up when Chinberg arrives for work before 7 a.m. The office opens at 8 and schedules intake sessions for at least 30 individuals or families. The schedule usually is full by 10 a.m.

Last week, Family Service already had 800 households requesting Christmas help.

“The No. 1 requested item for kids 7-12 was a new pair of shoes,” Chinberg said.

What are your dreams for your children?

That’s Chinberg’s second question for all clients. He asks parents to focus on children’s futures even while the family is in crisis.

At Christmas and throughout the year, Family Service depends on community support to offer a hand up to families in need.

“The need is tremendous, but the Billings community is tremendous,” Chinberg said. Please check the box above to see how you can help.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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