Shoppers at the Associate Benevolent Society look through items Thursday. ABS is open to clients from 1 to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CLINTON — With unemployment rates on the rise in a struggling economy, more and more people are facing the threat of poverty and homelessness. As the need grows, more local organizations are stepping up to help.

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the national unemployment rate for April 2009 at 8.9 percent and since December 2007, stats show 5.7 million jobs have been lost.

Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed individuals has grown by 6 million and the unemployment rate has risen by 3.9 percent, according to BLS.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa’s recorded unemployment rate for March 2009 is 5.2 percent, with a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in Clinton County. That percentage equals out to 1,840 unemployed individuals in Clinton County, according to IWD.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty indicates that national studies show the number of Americans at risk of homelessness continues to grow.

NLCHP states on its Web site that more than 3 million people experience homelessness each year. It also indicates that one-third of the homeless population consists of families.

In the community, organizations committed to helping needy families are seeing its services utilized now more than ever.

The Victory Center reports that it is serving an increasing number of needy individuals in the community.

Pastor Ray Gimenez, founder of the Victory Center, stated that the center has seen a 25 percent increase in services over the past three months. The center is offering housing and providing meals to more individuals.

The center is serving around 300 meals a day to the homeless and needy, and also providing housing to 34 individuals.

However, the center is also seeing a drop in funding as the donor base is giving less.

“We’re needing as much help as possible,” said Gimenez.

The Associate Benevolent Society, which has been serving Clinton County for over 124 years, provides food, clothing, baby items and utility assistance to needy families. ABS was founded by local churches and is primarily funded by United Way and individuals in the community.

Individuals and families in need of assistance can register with ABS to “shop” at the facility once a month. Families select food, clothing and various other needed items and receive them for free.

Paula Mallory, executive director of the society, has been working at ABS for five years and has seen the needs of the community increase over time.

Part of ABS’ work includes providing food boxes for Easter and Thanksgiving to needy families. According to Mallory, Easter boxes provided to the community have increased from 130 to 302 over the past five years. Thanksgiving boxes provided increased from 369 to 660.

Mallory stated that the number of new families registered with ABS has also increased this year. Nine new families registered in January, 14 in February and 21 in March.

ABS currently assists hundreds of families and more than 1,600 individuals from Clinton and the surrounding areas. Approximately 35 families shop at ABS on any given day.

“We’re seeing a lot of people we’ve never seen before coming in,” stated Mallory. “Numbers have been going up.”

The items that ABS offers are primarily donated by area residents, churches and businesses. Area merchants contribute boxes of clothing, shoes and miscellaneous items while area unions, student groups and businesses organize food drives. Community members also volunteer to sort donations for distribution.

For those interested in contributing to ABS, donations are accepted Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 243-4148 for more information. Those interested in assisting the Victory Center can call 242-9016.

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