NAPLES — The Salvation Army of Collier County assisted more people in October than it has during any month in its 27-year history.
Despite low donation levels, the Salvation Army helped 2,400 residents, dishing out 12,000 pounds of food and $49,000 in financial aid to Collier residents to help with rent and utilities.
“I need people to understand this is very serious,” said Chris Nind, director of development and community relations for Collier’s Salvation Army.
By comparison, in October 2008, the Salvation Army gave out nearly $23,000 in financial aid.
The previous record was set in June when the organization gave $32,000 to the needy.
“We were absolutely staggered by that number in October,” Nind said. “Everyone is hurting.”
People can only receive assistance from the Salvation Army once per calendar year.
“This is the worst month we have ever seen in the history of the Corps,” Nind said. “It’s across the nation.”
As families continue to be affected by job loss and foreclosure, the Salvation Army expects the number of families seeking assistance to increase during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
“With uncertainty over the economy and job losses, our income is just not enough to meet the ever-growing needs, but it is important to care now about our neighbors right here in Collier County who face the prospects of a most difficult Christmas,” said Captain Alejandro Castillo, the area coordinator.
The Salvation Army has become a last resort for many.
“I’m here for to pay my light bill,” said Barbara Shields.
Shields sits anxiously in the waiting room of the Salvation Army, folding her hands, she waits to hear her name called by staff.
They will decide whether Shields will have light in her home tonight after the sun sets.
“If they don’t help me, tonight at midnight I will be in the dark,” Shields said.
Shields is one of many who have come to the Salvation Army for assistance. She recently lost her job and 18 months ago lost her 33-year-old son to cancer.
For Shields, this month will continue to be painful. She was denied assistance by the Salvation Army because she already receives government aid.
By law, she was ineligible.
She stood outside teary-eyed with her friend searching for other alternatives.
“They just told me ‘No. Go to a church.’” said Shields.
The organization is depending on people who gave in the past to give again in order to keep up with ongoing demand.
“There is a very serious need in the community,” Nind said “and we will continue to do our work, and we will continue to support people over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but, of course, there is a cost to that.”
That cost comes not only in money and donations, but also in bells and kettles.
“We are going to be out with our bells and red kettles and we hope that the county and community will continue to support us.” Nind said.
The red kettle collection buckets are the Salvation Army’s top form of fund raising.
People such as Chris Jirard depend on goods purchased from money dropped into those kettles.
“I’m hoping for some diapers,” Jirard said.
Jirard waited nervously in the lobby of the Salvation Army on Monday, while his wide-eyed 3-year-old daughter sat between his legs fondling her bottle.
“People don’t realize how hard it is,” Jirard said.
Jirard lost his job as a mechanic when the company he worked for was bought out. He’s been out of work for one month.
“I even tried day labor. I couldn’t even get work there because there was 30 to 40 people out there trying to get the same work,” Jirard said. “It’s hard enough to take care of yourself, let alone a baby. Hopefully it won’t come to the point where I have to ask for more than just diapers.”
Meanwhile, officials at the Salvation Army are preparing for the worst.
“When will we see an end to this?” Nind said. “I don’t know, but I expect we will be seeing this pain for months.”
E-mail Alex Pena at email@example.com.