Chrystie Turner has an angel on her desk at United Way of the Lowcountry. The small glass statuette was a gift from someone who called the United Way HelpLine when she didn't know where to turn. Turner helped her find the way.
"She told me I was her guardian angel, so she wanted me to have this," said Turner, United Way's Director of Resource Services, whose job includes the HelpLine.
A total of 586 Beaufort and Jasper county residents have called the HelpLine since April 1, the start of the local United Way's fiscal year. A few just needed a phone number or other basic information. Most were in situations involving multiple or complex needs. HelpLine is a signature United Way program that provides information and referrals, linking those with health and human service needs to local agencies that can help.
Bringing new clarity to this longtime program is the Community Services Organization, founded in 2009 to eliminate duplication and provide a comprehensive approach to helping people in need. United Way is one of 31 Community Services members that include government agencies, local independent faith-based and nonprofit organizations. Community Services' 71 agents enter data into a Web-based program called Charity Tracker.
"Now when I answer a HelpLine call, I can look at the database and see if the caller has been helped before -- when, how much and by whom," Turner said. "This saves time in getting to a solution."
Charity Tracker holds data on more than 3,200 local households that have received $362,619 in emergency assistance since March 2010 when the software was installed. Statistics for these 18 months tell the story of local need: 1,742 families were threatened with loss of electricity in their homes; 501 faced eviction; 62 were homeless; 186 couldn't afford essential medications; 1,474 needed food.
"Last summer a very sweet, very skinny 67-year-old woman came into our office looking for food," Turner said. "She told me, 'Me and my dog's been living in my car for 3 weeks eating nothing but peanut butter crackers.'"
Turner found the right community resources to help her, and the woman ended up bringing homemade cakes and pies to the office to show her gratitude. Another time, a burly construction worker called and came in with his 5-year-old daughter. He'd received an eviction notice and didn't know what to do.
"I've always worked and never needed help before," he told Turner. Trying to lighten the mood, she asked the child what she looked forward to the most about starting school in a few weeks. The answer stunned her: "I'll get to eat lunch every day!"
"That's the reality out there," Turner said. "Kids are having to be savvy and to experience things no child should have to experience, like wondering where their next meal is coming from."
Hard economic times bring HelpLine calls from more people who've never needed help before. They don't know what they are eligible for or even where to start looking. That's where the HelpLine, the Community Services Organization and Turner come in. And she loves the daialog, the thank yous and the little cards from those she helps (she keeps them all).
"I am so blessed to get to see firsthand the good we are doing with United Way contributors' dollars -- supporting agencies that help our HelpLine callers," Turner said. "And HelpLine helps United Way keep a finger on the pulse of the community, to know up front what issues are developing out there."
United Way statistics show that one in three Beaufort and Jasper county residents are touched by a United Way agency every year.
"Need transcends all ages and socioeconomic levels," Turner said. "You might be one step away from needing United Way services yourself."
And if you should find yourself facing eviction, terminal illness, hunger or myriad other frightening situations, you can call the HelpLine. Thanks to United Way and all the other helping agencies in our community, you won't face that situation alone.