No-shows hindering new office help efforts

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Salvation Army Corps of McComb’s newly opened Brookhavenoffice has been burdened by a series of cancelled appointments thatare wasting man hours and potentially squandering some disastervictims’ chances of assistance, agency officials said.

Corps Director Brenda Kates said that since opening on Sept. 11,eight of the office’s 45 scheduled appointments – better than 17percent – have been no-shows.

She said many needy residents call and schedule the appointmentswithout realizing the organization’s assistance is for emergenciesonly and based on household income. They then ditch the appointmentafter discovering their ineligibility.

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“We have to get a handle on people not realizing what thisprogram is for,” Kates said. “Our primary function is to help withemergency financial assistance – anything unforeseen.”

Kates said the scheduled appointments are basically wasted timefor the outpost Brookhaven office, which is only open on Thursdaysfrom 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. in Lincoln County’s Department of HumanServices building. She said the office’s financial assistance isdistributed on a “first come, first serve” basis, and wastedappointments are hindering those who have suffered throughunforeseen emergencies and need help.

And time is of the essence for those in need due to anemergency. Kates said the organization does not scheduleappointments beyond a two-week period.

“If we do, it’s not considered an emergency and that personshould be trying to find a way to recover from the burden [on theirown],” she said. “If three people don’t show up, that’s three hourswe’re sitting there idle when someone else should have anappointment. It doesn’t hurt us so much as it hurts thecommunity.”

Kates said the organization’s emergency financial assistance isbased on annual income related to the size of the household seekingit. A household of one person may not exceed $13,000 per year ofincome, she said, or that person is ineligible for assistance.

The formula covers households of all sizes, Kates said, and isonly deviated from in the event of disaster situations liketornadoes or house fires when “someone is really hurting.”

Otherwise, the organization cannot help anyone who does not meetthe financial guidelines. The Salvation Army operates entirely ondonations, which are down nationally for a host of charitableorganizations.

“It is our duty and our promise to these people and everyone whodonated to the Salvation Army to be good stewards of this money,”Kates said. “We will do extensive screening, and if you don’t meetthe qualifications, we would have to deny you assistance.”

Kates urged anyone in Lincoln County seeking assistance from theSalvation Army to call the McComb office at 601-249-0131 to makesure they are eligible before scheduling an appointment at theBrookhaven office.

A blown appointment will hold up the next person in line, andthe line is long.

Kates said the new Brookhaven office has fielded approximately1,500 calls for assistance in its roughly three weeks of existence.The office receives between 50 and 75 calls per day, she said,including voice mails left on the office answering machine over theweekend.

“We really did not know that the need in Lincoln County was sogreat,” she said. “We do 10 appointments per day, and have done 15in one day before.”

Kates said the McComb office has always served Lincoln County,but the demand for assistance did not increase until the Brookhavenoffice opened. She attributed the increase to public awareness.

Kates said a small portion of the Salvation Army’s increasedtraffic is due to the recent closing of the Mid-South MississippiChapter of the American Red Cross, which folded almost two weeksago due to outstanding debt.

She said the two organizations had worked hand-in-hand butoffered different types of assistance. The slack being picked up bythe Salvation Army is small, she said, but some of the new clientsare Red Cross referrals.

“We’re gonna take up the load,” Kates said. “Whatever they needto do to work out the issues, I hope they do it in a timely mannerand reestablish a chapter. They give immediate assistance rightthen and there and contact us and let us know someone is coming[for further assistance].”

Kates said the McComb office is looking to hire a full timecoordinator for the Brookhaven office, but it all depends on theamount of donations received this Christmas, the organization’sstrongest donation time. Kates added the Brookhaven office wouldnot be possible without the work of coordinators Wesley Kent, BobbyHarris and Opha Lloyd – three Brookhaven Christmastimebell-ringers.