Neighbors helping neighbors

After one of the coldest Decembers in the state's history, the city of Concord wants to increase participation in its Neighbor Helping Neighbor program.

The community-funded effort offers help to people in paying their monthly bill. Contributions are collected from utility customers and are designated to assist those that pay Concord utility bills. The city collects the money and distributes it through Cooperative Christian Ministry, a local nonprofit that formed in 1981 to provide financial assistance, canned food and clothing to those in need.

Mike Wojciechowski, CCM's crisis ministry director, said the new program is a huge help because demand for assistance has increased, especially for first-time clients.

"With economy the way it is, there is just more need, and we're seeing more and more folks who have never had to ask for assistance," he said.

CCM received its first check from the city's Neighbor program in April. CCM started providing assistance to residents in June and has assisted 27 different families since.

In late December, the program had raised nearly $4,000.

Concord utility customers can send a one-time lump donation, designate a certain amount to be added to their monthly bill or round up their utility bill to the nearest dollar each month as an ongoing donation. When it comes to donations, every penny helps.

"It's just that much more assistance we can provide to those in the community," said Wojciechowski.

"It's dollars that we would not otherwise have to help folks out. The more folks that are able to contribute, the more we'll be able to assist."

More than 3,000 people received assistance during CCM's first year of operation. Today, more than 130 churches, 100 businesses and organizations and thousands of individuals actively support the ministry. This year, CCM has had 8,200 visits from people seeking financial assistance, food or other resources.

CCM, through its ministry programs, also proved to be a leader in the response to the 2003 closing of Pillowtex, the largest mass layoff in the history of North Carolina.

CCM partnered with many public, private, and faith-based organizations to help remedy the unprecedented event.

The response helped CCM develop a model of service that still exists at the organization's crisis center in Concord.

In 2006, more than 800 volunteers delivered services to more than 20,000 people throughout Concord, Kannapolis and Cabarrus County who experienced crisis in the areas of food, shelter and finances.