Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

June 22, 2010

FISH services remain in high demand

EFFINGHAM — Since 1970 Effingham County FISH Human Services has helped feed, drive and clothe residents in need, and, now, in these tough economic times, those services are relied on more than ever.

    Whether it’s delivering a meal to someone or taking someone to a doctor’s appointment or giving kids a Christmas who might not otherwise have one or just giving a lonely person a place to eat and be with others for Thanksgiving, FISH has been there — not only for county residents, but for those passing through, as well.

    It all starts with a call to FISH’s Service Center. Harold Heth takes the calls that come in asking for small necessities, like food and toiletries, to bigger ones, like rent and lodging.

    Heth has been a FISH board member for more than 30 years, and since he retired from the military, he has been handling calls for the organization. Although Heth normally only answers calls during the day, the phone rings round the clock, and while he may not answer calls after hours, he does check them and responds to those with emergencies.

    “Depends on the need,” he said.

    Helping pay for much-needed medicine is one need that possibly can’t wait.

    “If it’s life or death, I’ll do it,” he said.

    Unfortunately, the number of those in need outweighs FISH’s capacity to help.

    “We don’t assist every call, but we try to,” said Heth.

    One request the center receives a lot more of lately but can’t typically provide is rent money to help a family out of a dire situation. The organization does offer alternatives, however.

    “We try to steer them in different directions,” said Heth.

    FISH will advise someone seeking such assistance to first talk to the landlord to see if something can be worked out, and eventually, the organization puts the person in contact with a social service agency that can help.

    FISH also refers people to social service agencies who need food. The organization works closely with agencies like Catholic Charities and Department of Children and Family Services, which can provide those things in addition to providing long-term help.

    Some day-to-day items, such as laundry detergents, are not typical necessities FISH provides, but although FISH’s Clothes Closet may not have laundry detergent, it does have lots of clothes and is looking to expand into housewares and bedding for people who are in immediate need of those items.

    “If someone has a fire, they don’t have bedding or towels or anything like that,” said Jacki Whitacre who manages the Clothes Closet.

    The Clothes Closet provides items for individuals and families who are on federal assistance at no cost.

    Lately, though, requests to FISH are for bigger items like air conditioners.

    “There’s a big need right now,” said Heth, adding the price, however, is out of the organization’s range.

     But that doesn’t mean the organization won’t help. Typically, FISH will match someone needing an air conditioner with someone looking to get rid of one if possible, or the organization will work with the Salvation Army to provide assistance.

    FISH also assists with items or services that may not be covered by medical insurance, like eyeglasses and dental care. While Heth said there is a big need for that type of help, there is an even bigger need for transportation.

    “There isn’t much available in the county. It’s so limited,” he said.

    FISH has worked diligently over the years to make sure transportation is provided for medical purposes, like doctor appointments, short procedures or even surgery.

    “Sometimes we take children if their parents are unable to take them,” said longtime board member Russ Howard.

    While some appointments may involve just driving across town, some may require going to Springfield or St. Louis and spending the day.

    Howard said most volunteer drivers are retired, so they have flexible schedules, and at 86 years old, one driver still likes taking the Springfield and St. Louis trips.

    “He’s still going strong,” said Howard.

    Getting to medical appointments, according to Howard, is a need that’s not being met in rural areas and Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is interested in knowing just how FISH does it.

    “They’re trying to do what we’re doing, but they’re having trouble,” said Howard.

    Howard believes what makes FISH unique is not only the gamut of services it provides but also that they are provided solely by volunteers — more than 350.

    “There’s no overhead to what we do,” he said.

    However, Heth noted FISH still struggles with finding enough drivers for the meals on wheels program provided to seniors and homebound residents through CEFS Golden Circle Nutrition program and through St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital for those on special diets.

    “There’s a big need for drivers,” said Heth of the lunchtime program.

    Providing services also has gotten harder through the years. The organization must verify information its given in order to determine if someone qualifies for help.

    “It’s harder to trust people now,” said Heth.

    In addition, privacy has become another concern.

    “In the beginning, we helped a lot more needs, but it’s hard to do now with privacy concerns,” said Heth.

    Transportation to appointments is just one area where FISH has had to deal with privacy issues in trying to confirm appointments.

    “Making sure someone has an appointment is a task, but we need to know,” said Heth. “I don’t think people realize what’s all involved in making FISH work.”

    Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or cathy.thoele@effinghamdailynews.com.

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