More Than Meets The Eye
As temperatures begin to cool and the economy slips further into recession, community action agencies like Upper Des Moines Opportunity (UDMO) become even more vital to local families and individuals trying to make ends meet.
“We’ve been fortunate that the weather has been so warm, but that won’t last,” said Cinda Joynt, Outreach Center Director for UDMO. “When it gets cold, things will change.”
Joynt oversees the Palo Alto, Emmet, and Pocahontas outreach offices of UDMO. Peg Martini serves as Outreach Specialist for the Palo Alto County Outreach Center, which is located at 2905 25th Street in Emmetsburg.
“One of the common misunderstandings that people have is that we mainly serve single mothers and their children,” said Peg Martini. “However, we help more ‘working poor’ families, where both the husband and wife work and still can’t make it, than single parent families.”
Martini shared that last fiscal year–from Oct. 1, 2007 through Sept. 30, 2008–471 households (or 1,017 individuals) in Palo Alto County sought assistance from UDMO. Of that number, 152 were age 70 and older, 140 were ages 24 to 34, and 126 were ages 6 to 11. The main sources of household income were Social Security (218) and employment (148).
Martini explained that UDMO is a non-profit organization that relies on federal, state, county, and city funding to subsist.
“We’ve had great support from our Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, area churches, and Wild Rose Casino,” Martini said. “If we didn’t get the support from the community, most of our services wouldn’t be available to those who need it.”
The majority of UDMO’s funding comes from the federal government in the form of a Community Service Block Grant. However, local sources are at the heart of UDMO. The Board of Supervisors has been generous with their support. Pastor Luther Thoresen with the Ministerial Association calls each month to ask UDMO what is needed. Those needs are then shared with participating church congregations, and are published on the Church Page of the Reporter-Democrat newspapers. Ladies from the Apostolic Christian Church in West Bend provide quilts. West Bend’s ButterBraid donates their frozen pastries, and McNally’s Bakeshop in Emmetsburg offers their bread and rolls. Private individuals also bring in their extra garden produce and apples to the UDMO Food Pantry.
Currently, UDMO is working on heating assistance applications and organizing families for Adopt A Family, where needy families are adopted out for Christmas. UDMO is again cooperating with Alco for the Angel Tree effort to ensure that senior citizens will have a brighter holiday. There are many other services available through the Outreach Center for individuals and families who qualify based on federal poverty income guidelines.
The Food Pantry is available for emergency situations. Commodities are transported in from the Iowa Food Bank four times a year. Other food donations come from community donors like the Kiwanis and Cub Scouts. Donations of plastic grocery sacks are also needed for the Food Pantry.
The Clothing Shop is open to all of UDMO’s clients. Seasonal clothing, clean and in good repair, may be dropped off. Right now, the biggest needs are winter coats, snow boots, and clothing for little boys. The Outreach Center will also accept usable furniture and appliances that are in working condition.
The Stork’s Closet has clothing for infants as well as diapers, wipes, and formula.
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) provides supplemental help for the heating season. Applications are taken November 1 through April 15. Martini stated that fuel assistance funding for all types of heating (gas, propane, etc.) has been increased this year. As a result, the least that qualifying applicants, who use propane, will receive is $500.
The Birthday Club allows parents to visit the Outreach Center during the week of their child’s birthday to pick out a new toy for them. Many of the toys are donated by members of ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education).
UDMO also participates in the HUSH (Help Us Stop Hunger) Program where hunters can donate a deer to provide meat for local needy families. The program is facilitated through the Iowa Food Bank; meat is processed at the locker in West Bend.
For more information on services or how to help out, contact the Palo Alto County Outreach Center at (712) 852-3482.