South Charlotte

Helping thousands with basic needs

Giving back has been a way of life since 1979 at the Matthews HELP Center.

The center, in downtown Matthews on North Ames Street, provides programs and services that help thousands of people each year.

In 2009, the center helped 3,181 residents of Matthews and surrounding communities.

The center provides financial crisis assistance, a food pantry, clothes for those in need, a back-to-school program and a holiday adoption program.

"With the rising needs, our budget for the crisis assistance program has also increased," said Kim Rhodarmer, the executive director at the Matthews HELP Center.

In 2009, the budget was $100,000; this year, it's $300,000, according to Rhodarmer.

"Our numbers have increased dramatically in the past year and a half," Rhodarmer said. "People who never fathomed they would need financial assistance are the ones calling us."

"It's the people who usually came to our door to donate who are now needing our services," she added. "Most of them have jobs but are underemployed; they have a full-time job, but it doesn't pay what their previous full-time job did. It's just not enough to cover their financial obligations."

The center pairs those clients with professional budgeters from Get It Together, an organization that helps people get financially stable.

"We've been so pleased to be partnered with them, because it's just one more way we can help our clients improve their overall quality of life," said Rhodarmer.

The financial crisis assistance program is the center's largest program. Clients can get assistance with rent, utilities, medical bills, food, clothing and even car repairs.

"If someone comes in who had a major car repair estimate last month and can't pay to get it fixed, that means they won't be able to get to their job," said Rhodarmer. "For us, that qualifies as a basic life need."

Because the center doesn't receive any federal or state funding or funding from the United Way, the staff decides whether a client's need is a crisis.

The center gets funds from two sources: 50 percent from revenue generated by the center's thrift store, Back Porch Treasures; 50 percent from grants, personal donations and partnerships with local churches and businesses.

Clients' needs come in all shapes and sizes, and the center is equipped to aid most of them. But sometimes, a need is too great for the center to handle alone.

"We've made a wonderful partnership with the Charlotte Crisis Center to help fulfill those needs we can't meet on our own," said Rhodarmer. "We often will pair with them and each provides a certain amount of dollars to help as many people as possible."

The center has also paired with the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services to help those in Matthews who require assistance from the county. Every first and third Monday, a case worker from DSS comes to the center to work with clients who need Medicaid, food stamps, or other DSS program aid.

This month, the center is focusing on its holiday adoption program.

There are 159 families in need of gifts for their children, and the center helps pair those families with donors.

"The unique part of our program is that children are not given generic gifts, but items from a list they made," said Rhodarmer. However, the center also has needs.

"Most importantly, we need donors for our holiday adoption program," said Rhodarmer. "We have 25 families still to help and will probably have 20 families add to that list every week."

The center also needs 40 volunteers to work in the thrift store, food pantry, and as receptionists. Volunteers would need to commit to one four-hour shift a week, in the morning or afternoon.

"We have 200 volunteers on staff that come through these doors every week," said Rhodarmer. "Because of the economy, we don't have a day that's not busy. For a solid year-and-a-half, we haven't had one day that's not been busy."

Rhodarmer said even though she's only been with the center for a year and nine months, she has been working with them for 12 years as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools social worker.

"I'm proud to have been a part of this agency," she said. "We are really doing some great things here to help our community."