Helpline sends SOS as needs flood agency


To help

Helpline, Walla Walla’s organization offering emergency assistance to low-income residents, is asking for help with its annual blanket drive.

The importance of having new or like-new blankets and sleeping bags to hand out cannot be over emphasized, said Liz McDevitt, executive director.

“We can hand these over if someone is sleeping on people’s floors or outside. Even if they are trying to cut down on heating bills, they pile on lots of blankets and that’s a barrier to the cold,” she said.

Twin and full-size blankets are the most useful to give out, as well as sleeping blankets that can be machine washed. Donations by individuals and groups can be taken to 1520 Kelly Place, Suite 180.

For more information call 529-3377.

As sure as autumn turns to winter, people turn to Helpline.

For the nonprofit emergency assistance agency, winter is already here, judging by the needs coming through the doors at 1520 Kelly Place.

“We’ve already served as many people by the end of October as we did the entire year of last year,” said Liz McDevitt, executive director of Helpline. “Our two busiest months are still ahead of us.”

The increase has meant suspending the agency’s prescription program that helps defray the cost of medications for chronic or life-threatening health issues.

In the past, Helpline has been able to offer $40 to mitigate pharmacy costs, up to three times a year, McDevitt said. Now, even with asking clients to chip in as much as they can, “it’s fallen off the list of things we can do.”

An infusion of cash is badly needed to bolster all the agency’s programs, she added. “As you can see, this is a pretty scary trend going into the coldest months of the year.”

The irony is not lost on Helpline’s staff and board members, McDevitt said.

“We’re having to make some of the same choices people are having to make themselves,” she said. “Do you pay for heat? Or do you pay for prescriptions? It’s been pretty eye opening.”

With cutbacks in government programs like food stamps, the news gets worse for people, McDevitt said. “It’s not a huge amount, it’s like $29 a month, and then that’s the prescription we’re talking about.”

By this point in 2012 Helpline had served 2,500 households. By the end of October that number was already 2,569. In the first day and a half in November, 456 people representing 205 families had asked for food, utility, transportation or other assistance, McDevitt noted.

“We served nearly 100 households this (Monday) morning and the lobby is still standing room only,” she said.

McDevitt has led the organization for just six months, and seeing families with little children waiting to see if they can keep their utilities turned on or get some food is still tough, she said.

“They come in, the elderly, the disabled. All these people and they all have their individual needs. We have to vet it to see who we can help the most,” she said. “We’re trying to make the tough decisions, just like the families have to make.”

Even the smallest items make a difference. Besides the agency’s annual blanket drive, Helpline is seeking toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste and disposable diapers to give out, McDevitt said.

“Those are the things you can’t buy with food stamps.”


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