Woman's request kicks off aid effort

11/15/2009 12:00 AM

11/15/2009 12:06 AM

Pearl Smith has always worked.

Sometimes, when her children were small, she worked two jobs.

At age 61, she'd still be working. But her health is giving out. Her kidneys began failing eight years ago. She's on dialysis. She had heart surgery in March.

Doctors will not allow her to return to work doing upholstery and carpeting at Hawker Beechcraft.

The bills have been piling up. Her furnace is broken, and she can't afford to fix it.

She's hoping Share the Season can help. The charity offers one-time aid to people affected by unforeseen hardships. It began taking applications for assistance Nov. 1.

"We are seeing a large number of laid-off workers, the elderly and working poor," said Janet Delanty, Share the Season coordinator for the Salvation Army in Wichita.

"The needs are more critical this year. Last year, we saw people who were becoming to be in the arrears with their utilities. This year, we are seeing people at the breaking point."

Since Share the Season began in 2000, it has helped more than 1,700 families with more than $1.3 million in donations.

Last year, more than 830 people sent in $190,000 in donations.

"We've had a lot of calls from people wanting to apply or need information," said Rob Allison, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, which started the program nearly a decade ago with the Salvation Army and The Wichita Eagle.

"We want to make sure this is still a great charity effort and that it is having a positive impact. Wichita, as usual, will step up as these stories are written."

The Eagle will feature a daily story of a family in need and tell how readers can help. Most of those featured will remain anonymous, but their need will be verified by the Salvation Army.

The foundation provides $20,000 in seed money for the program. Donors send what they can. Some provide $25 or less, while others provide goods or services, such as dental work, hearing aids, glasses, even a few used cars.

All money raised goes to help local people in need. The average recipient gets about $700 in assistance, mostly to pay the mortgage, utility bills or medical bills. The payments are made directly to creditors.

For people like Pearl Smith, Share the Season offers hope.

She won't be able to receive her full retirement benefits until she turns 62 next July.

Smith said she's never experienced a year like this one.

Her monthly income is $920. By the time she makes her house payment of $520 and her car payment of $371, there's not much money left.

"I'm struggling to make ends meet," Smith said. "My sisters and daughters help out financially as much as they can. But I currently have no heat in my home and my savings are gone."

Her furnace quit working at the end of last winter. It was estimated to cost $1,200 to fix.

"My house is so cold," she said. "I stay wrapped up in a blanket and go to bed early to try and stay warm."

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