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Local relief agencies struggle to help the needy during cold snap

The brutal cold weather that descended on southern Illinois in late December and early January stretched many local Catholic relief agencies thin.

As temperatures plunged to below zero many people were forced to show up at the Catholic relief agencies like Daystar in Cairo, and Catholic Urban Programs and St. Vincent de Paul in East St. Louis. And because of the overwhelming numbers of people seeking help relief agencies, both private and public, were soon tapped out.

“Everyone’s out of money,”said Joe Hubbard, vice president, St. Vincent de Paul Belleville Council, during one of the chilliest days of the cold snap. “But we’re still doing what we can.”

Catholic Urban Programs’ Director Gerry Hasenstab said CUP has run short of money for motel vouchers. “We used up what we had allocated for winter in three weeks,” Hasenstab said. CUP is now drawing from other funds, such as those for utilities and refrigerators.

Hasenstab said CUP spent more than $20,000 so far this winter on motel vouchers. Of that, the city of Belleville provided $16,000. CUP makes up the rest.

“These are people living in homes without heat, in their cars or on the street,” he said. He said a motel room usually costs $40 per night.

According to Hubbard, St. Vincent de Paul gave out between 30 and 40 motel vouchers, while trying to help as many people as possible make partial payments on their utility bills. “When April 1 comes the [utility companies]do massive shut offs to utilities,” Hubbard said. “We try to help people pay down their bills and keep their power on when April 1 comes.”

Sherry Miller, director of Daystar in Cairo, said that during the recent Arctic blast Daystar was the only agency in the area with any funds left.

“We were blessed that we didn’t have to turn anyone away,” she said. “Our guardian angels provided from all over the state. We also put a ceiling on some utility funds because we try to serve everyone.”

Daystar’s two-person staff serves eight counties and provides rental and utility assistance, food, clothing, and help with doctors’ visits. “We work 24/7,” Miller said.

Miller, who is often called “Sister Sherry,” by those she helps, said Daystar is close to running out of funds and another cold snap may drain them of funds.

However, she remains hopeful. “We just pray and it will come,” she said.

Hubbard agreed. “We just pray God sends more money and he does,” he said. “People are very good if they see people are struggling.”
Added Hasenstab. “We pray for good weather too.”

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