BUCKHANNON – When most people think about the Upshur Parish House, they think about the food bank and holiday baskets offered to neighbors in need.
But Upshur Parish House and Crosslines Director Kristi Wilkerson said the assistance offered through the ecumenical ministries encompasses so much more, and right now, the most pressing need is assistance with utilities.
Wilkerson said at the current time, there has been a huge uptick in neighbors requesting assistance with paying their utility bills. She said she is unsure why there has been such an increase in the need for help during the fall, saying usually the requests do not increase until the weather gets colder.
“Our requests were holding pretty steady through July and in August, we have seen a large increase,” Wilkerson said. “We have had a lot of new neighbors come in that we have not helped before. Perhaps we are publicizing better and folks are hearing about what we do – we are unsure why, but we are happy to help those folks if we have the resources to do that.
“We have had some days that have been warmer – maybe that is what made the cost of utility bills go up,” she added.
Another possibility for the spike, according to Wilkerson, is neighbors or clients, having other unforeseen expenses such as cars breaking down.
“Or it could be that it has mounted up over several months, and it’s to the critical stage now where there is a threat of the utility being shut off,” Wilkerson said. “Sometimes people hesitate and hope the following month will be better and they found they cannot catch up without some help.”
Folks who are searching for aid with a utility bill or with help with rent are asked to bring everyone in the household’s Social Security card and they will need to share their income level.
“They share with us where they are at and what is going on,” Wilkerson said, “and we will need to see the bill that they are asking for help with – whether it is a termination notice or if it has been disconnected. If they are moving into a new place and are seeking assistance with the security deposit or rent, we need some kind of copy of paperwork that would verify the amount of rent or security deposit.”
Wilkerson said sometimes when folks come in, they are struggling emotionally.
“You can tell they are having a rough day – there may be tears or an edginess – neighbors are a little upset or angry,” she said. “They recognize for their family they need to keep the electricity, water or heat on, and they recognize they need to keep food in the house. That is a position they recognize they don’t want to be in. People want their families to be comfortable and we try to help those neighbors out.”
Wilkerson said when folks come in to ask for help, you can see the weight on their shoulders.
“When we are able to tell them we can help them, they take a deep breath and sigh,” she said. “They express their gratitude and you can see the weight come off of their shoulders. We offer options – asking the neighbors if they have checked with other places for help and sometimes, they haven’t thought of that or really don’t know where to turn for that assistance. We can offer ideas of other places where they can look for assistance.”
“We want neighbors to be safe, warm and dry … we want them to live in a safe environment, we want them to be warm in the winter and we want it to be dry for them,” she said. “That applies to everything we do – we want folks to have a safe place to live and want them to have food on the table – for everyone in the household – especially for children.”
Another area of concern in Buckhannon is elderly folks who are on a fixed income.
“Their expenses can go up and they usually don’t see an increase in their income,” Wilkerson said. “They are challenged to find some ways to pay these increased expenses and we try to help them to help them have a better day and to help them with their challenges they are facing.”
Wilkerson said on Wednesday, a gentleman came in and was seeking help.
“One of his utilities had just been shut off,” she explained. “He was trying to make it through and get that service turned back on.”
Wilkerson said the Upshur Parish House is able to help with the challenges people are facing because they are surrounded by a generous, loving community.
“The people work to help take care of their Upshur County neighbors, and we only serve Upshur County residents,” she said. “I am the only full-time staff person. We have seven part-time staff members and everyone else at the Upshur Parish House is a volunteer.”
Although there are 40 to 50 volunteers at the Upshur Parish House, Wilkerson said they are always looking for others to volunteer their time.
“We often say we are ‘powered by prayer’ and volunteers,” she said. “Without our volunteers, there is no way we could do all of the different programs we do. Our volunteers are wonderful – gracious, loving and kind individuals who really care for their neighbors.”
She said the Upshur Parish House is looking not only for new volunteers, but also for folks to donate to help their neighbors in need.
“We can use donations of gently used clothing, diapers, food and money,” Wilkerson said. “What we are struggling with now is we have had a lot of folks coming in looking for help with utilities or rent or things of that nature. The only way we can help them is with financial resources and our funding has dipped.”
“We know as we go into the winter months, the need, especially for financial assistance with utilities, is only going to increase,” she added. “We would appreciate any financial contributions that individuals, churches, organizations or businesses would like to contribute to help their neighbors.”
Wilkerson said the Upshur Parish House has received confirmation that they have received tax credits through the State of West Virginia’s Neighborhood Investment Program that the state of West Virginia.
“We have double the tax credits that we had last year,” Wilkerson explained. “If anyone would like to make a gift of $500 or more, we can give them 50 percent of that back in tax credits – not a deduction, but actual tax credits –so if they give a $500 check, we give them $250 in tax credits. That is something that a lot of folks find convenient.”
One large event the Upshur Parish House is in the process of preparing for is the Thanksgiving and Christmas meal package distribution.
“That is in addition to our food pantry,” Wilkerson explained. “If someone qualifies for assistance here, they also qualify for the Thanksgiving and Christmas meal package distribution. We usually prepare 600 baskets for each holiday. That includes a traditional, healthy meal with a turkey for Thanksgiving with all the side dishes and a ham for Christmas and the side dishes. That keeps the fall very busy while we are preparing for those distributions. We partner with other folks and on Christmas Day, we prepare a Christmas Dinner that is open for everyone. It is held at Chapel Hill and is organized by Carol Meese and she has already started to work on that.”
Wilkerson said currently, the Parish House’s Clothes Closet is accepting donations of gently used, clean clothing.
“We prefer those making donations of clothing items bring those during the hours we are open and drop them off at our backdoor porch,” she said. “That makes it easier to process and assures the donations do not get wet.”
The Upshur Parish House is located at 68 College Ave. in Buckhannon, and donations may be mailed to Upshur Parish House, 68 College Ave., Buckhannon, WV 26201. They operate a Facebook page and questions can be directed to them by calling 304-472-0743 or online at www.parishhouse.org. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.