Are you living on $770 a month?
Many people in Rutherford County are, as Yokefellow Executive Director Cherry Smith says, but often it is hard to see how.
"I've been down a time or two, but never down to $770 a month. That does qualify them for other government programs, but still . . ." her voice trailed as she expressed strong emotions and her eyes filled with tears.
Yokefellow, founded 53 years ago to join church ministries in service to the poor, has recently become the financial agent for NETworX Rutherford, the empowerment ministry.
Now in its third year, NETworX is the local program of teaching, networking and mutual encouragement which is a long way from a hot meal and a place to sleep for people in poverty.
NETworX looks to change the culture of generational poverty that sometimes make people believe they have no choices.
Middle class and rich folks volunteer to become what the program calls "allies." The alliance includes weekly meetings of encouragement and friendship.
Using Monday night facilities at Rutherfordton's First United Methodist and First Baptist churches, the program has been an inspiration to many people living in poverty, but the recent alliance with Yokefellow is providing a financial agent and an agreement about why helping people in poverty is important.
"When you see what we have seen," Smith said with tears welling in her eyes, "and you have any compassion at all, you can't walk away from these people. It's unbelievable the things people have to go through because of no fault of their own. I mean, you can't help having three heart attacks and losing your job. It's not that they aren't trying."
Yokefellow receives roughly half the money it uses to help people in crisis from the income of its thrift store in Spindale. The store's Facebook page is a cavalcade of photos featuring high-end clothing, household items, and other products for sale.
And some of the people helped by both groups do work jobs, but because of low pay and limited hours, they still need help. NETworX helps by creating meals and classes where all kinds of people share strategies for increasing income, doing budgets, changing communication skills, and managing the myriad crises that arise around maintaining a home, a car, and everything else that jumps up to challenge people.
Yokefellow often can help with direct aid. While the group never distributes cash, persons in crisis can avoid light and water being turned off and eviction with help from Yokefellow.
Yokefellow also administers the Share The Energy program funded by Duke Energy. Staffer Brian Lowry said that fund is currently at about $6,000. It helps pay for heating oil and other energy sources during the winter months.
As to how Lowry feels about dealing with people in financial crisis, he said, "Before I started working here, I had no idea what Yokefellow is or does. I knew people who had been helped. I'm very proud of how we are able to help people."
A program that began last year, and is funded by the RHI Foundation, helps folks with financial needs pay for medication. Some people leave the hospital without their prescriptions filled because they don't have the money to pay for them. Smith said the choice is often between eating and paying for their meds.
The RHI grant of $10,000 has helped tremendously solve that problem, although the fund is currently almost exhausted. It will be several weeks before a new funding cycle begins with RHI.
Sandra Turner, who directs NETworX, said this of the new partnership, "We at NETworX Rutherford are pleased about our partnership with Yokefellow. The missions of the two agencies mesh very well. With both of us working together, we hope to impact poverty in the county in a more effective way. Together we can always accomplish more than we can individually, whether that refers to people or groups or agencies. By combining our efforts, everyone wins. This is an exciting time for NETworX Rutherford."
Rutherford County's poverty rate is 19 percent, meaning almost one in five local folks live on a very limited income. Another group lives just above the poverty level and struggles with many of the same challenges.
Smith put in a plug for Yokefellow's thrift store and Facebook page. She said many people believe the thrift store is just a place for poor people to get clothing.
"There are many new items with the tags still on them. We've seen tags from Talbot, Doncaster, Liz Claiborne, Coldwater Creek. A lot of high-end clothing," Smith said; and expressed gratitude to the many local folks who donate to Yokefellow.
She had high praise for NETworX and expressed gratitude to its board member, Glenn Deck, for recommending the partnership.
"So many of us grew up in families where we learned basic skills, how to do a budget, write a check, how to communicate with people. Many people living in poverty don't grow up in those kinds of families. NETworX teaches these skills in a very positive environment," Smith said.
That positive environment involves a Monday night meal shared around a table where everyone is treated as an equal. Learn more at 828-287-3704.
Smith also had high praise for long-time Yokefellow volunteers: Raye Cable and her late husband, Carroll; Margie Forney, Carol and Jack Osborne, Maxine Landis, and added, "I know I'm leaving somebody out. I hope they won't be mad at me." She is grateful to all Yokefellow volunteers.
Yokefellow is a United Way agency.