Agency Providing AssistanceBy Kerry Dodson, communications manager, United Way Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program
Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 10 - October 26, 1995
In the dawn of our state's welfare reform act-where state government is telling local communities to take the reins on providing services to people in need-the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program (MCEAP), a United Way partner agency and Combined Virginia Campaign participant, is doing just that-as it has done for the past 20 years.
MCEAP provides temporary emergency financial assistance to low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities in Montgomery County. With objectives to alleviate hunger, prevent homelessness, and supplement low-income families with assistance with basic necessities, MCEAP operates a clothing and food bank, and maintains a pool of resources to assist clients in maintaining electricity, heat, water, and affordable places to live.
With 15 members on the volunteer board of directors (including Dixon Hanna, associate provost, Virginia Tech, and Jeanne Howard Roper, Urban Affairs and Planning, Virginia Tech), two community-service workers, and a host of volunteers, MCEAP has developed a tradition of helping people in need. As a small, community-based organization with volunteers who have been a part of this system of caring for many years, MCEAP tightly controls and monitors potential abuses on the system.
"MCEAP does not want to create a cycle of dependency," said Harry B. Scott III, founder and volunteer president. "Sometimes we do, and we have to step back and reassess the situation. Sometimes we have a tendency to want to do everything for everybody, but we know in order to do what is best for them, we have to let go and let people walk on their own."
And walking on their own is what many MCEAP clients do. In fact, the network of volunteers and professionals assisted 2,959 clients in 1994. In many cases, clients return to MCEAP, not for more help, but as volunteers to help others.
According to MCEAP workers, they do not always need to provide clients with financial assistance. MCEAP assists and encourages clients to think through their situations to find practical solutions.
"Many times clients need someone to sit down with them, look at cycles or trends in their own family budgets, and help them plan for circumstances that occur every year. For example...we help clients recognize that they will need to plan for paying a more expensive electricity bill in the winter," said Carol Reid, community service worker. "It sounds simple, but some clients just need us to sit down with them and help them plan."
However, some situations do call for MCEAP to assist in helping clients to pay rent to prevent homelessness or to assist in working with electric and gas companies to make allowances for clients who cannot pay bills. MCEAP works with area landlords, Appalachian Power Company, and oil companies in the New River Valley to assist people in need.
The MCEAP tradition has carried through to many other programs that are mutually supportive. MCEAP works closely with several other United Way partner agencies including the Free Clinic of the New River Valley, the Montgomery County Community Shelter, and the American Red Cross. It also works with government organizations such as New River Community Action, Montgomery County Department of Social Services, the Montgomery County Health Department, and the Police Department. MCEAP also works with area churches, the Montgomery County Christmas Store and the Interfaith Food Pantry, just to name a few. Furthermore, MCEAP is a host organization for SHARE (Self-help and Resource Exchange)-organizing and helping to distribute food to participants in our area.
United Way of Montgomery, Radford, and Floyd, the Combined Virginia Campaign, private contributions, churches, and civic organizations all play major roles in funding MCEAP. MCEAP also receives funds through FEMA's (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Emergency Food and Shelter Program facilitated locally by United Way of Montgomery, Radford, and Floyd. And, New River Community Action assists MCEAP by providing staff support.
For more information about the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program (MCEAP), other United Way partner agencies, or the Combined Virginia Campaign, call United Way at 381-2066.