Saline Area Social Service is Busy Helping People In Need, And It Should Be Even Busier

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 09/09/2019 - 17:48

If you want to know how many people in Saline still need to be connected with Saline Area Social Services, all you've got to do is look at the numbers.

As of the 2010 census, there were 8,810 people living in 3,699 households - numbers that have certainly grown in the past decade. And yet SASS reportedly services only 300 to 400 people regularly each month despite the fact that seven percent of Saline households receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. More than 1,000 households within the Saline Area Schools district boundary are in poverty.

There were 650 Saline students who qualified for and received free or reduced lunches during the 2018-2019 school year, while only 130 of those monthly recipients of Saline Area Social Service helps are children.

The gap is large, but SASS Executive Director Anne Cummings believes the new direction she and the rest of the stakeholders in her organization are taking, it will gain ground on the problem with a bolstering of community awareness of the organization and it's expanded capabilities.

Cummings, who moved to Saline from Oakland, Calif.m with her family, including two children who are attending Pleasant Ridge and Harvest, said while Saline is a beautiful community with many great things to offer, there is an underlying streak of poverty that has many families and children on their knees with a need for a hand up.

"There are so many great things in this community: schools, thriving commerce, buzzing downtown, parks, museum, the historical district ... if you ask anybody in Saline they'll come up with one of these different great attributes of the community," she said. "One of the areas that people don't really talk about is the other part of Saline; the working class that is lower income who needs additional help."

 

While these folks may smile and enjoy the community alongside you, there are stories of deprivation they return home to.

"Whether it's seniors who are living in lower-income community housing while living on Social Security or even community members that are working part-time or two part-time jobs and don't make enough to pay their bills, but make too much to qualify for food stamps ... this is the reason why it is important to have us in the community," Cummings said.

When talking about servicing people, SASS wants the public to know that this is about more than just handing out or delivering food to the hungry. Despite being the only organization of its type within the Saline area, SASS has strong community support and offers a wide range of support types to those who are in need.

SASS has provided nearly 27,000 meals worth of food at their West Michigan Avenue location, which Cummings referred to as "the house." Over 1,500 meals were delivered to seniors.

But SASS also helped with 614 prescriptions including eyeglasses and have protected 20 households from utilities shutoff or eviction. Gas cards have been provided to 35 people, while 70 children received backpacks full of school supplies and shoes.

SASS also provided referral assistance and services to 115 people and sponsored 30 students in after-school activities including music and sports. 

There's no government support for any of these efforts. It's purely on the shoulders of Cummings and the rest of SASS to reach out to the community for support, which has come in the form of 129,000 pounds of food donated and 8,000 hours of volunteer service.

The hope is both program participation and community support for those programs will rise. With 520 students qualified for free and reduced lunches in Saline schools not having interaction with the program, despite likely qualifying for and needing it, Cummings believes it's only a matter of continuing to drive the message of SASS constantly outward into every corner of Saline.

"One important thing to note is that to qualify for our services, it is really similar to qualifying for free and reduced lunch," she explained. "Most often, the students and their families who qualify for free and reduced lunch qualify for all of these services as well.

"It's a huge opportunity to bridge the gap between the number of people who are taking advantage of this opportunity within the schools to expand on that and give them more privilege and opportunities to improve their lives."

Cummings said Saline Area Schools collectively provides a great deal of support, from the Hornets Helping Hornets group to the National Honor Society food drives, the district's teachers and students both collectively and individually provide significant support to SASS.

"The National Honor Society alone, through a huge community drive, last year was able to gather over 7,000 pounds of food that supplied our pantry for three months," Cumming said, also praising students from Pleasant Ridge who have begun giving volunteer hours to SASS under the supervisor of the district's Parent-Teacher Association. 

The SASS Board of Directors has even had two student representative positions created to bring student input directly in the board's efforts to lead the organization.

"People understand that we exist and we're in the community, but not the full extent of what we do," Cummings said. "We're not just a food pantry. At the end of the day, we're so much more than that, so as I'm having more conversations, I'm trying to encourage people to start thinking of us as the local emergency relief resource.

"We're prepared for emergency situations, we're prepared when mothers come in from domestic abuse and are trying to get the help that they need and get them the resources that they need, we are available when a roof comes crashing down on a family's apartment and they're all of a sudden left homeless."

Cummings believes that this mindset shift will gradually happen over time, and as it does happen the gap will narrow towards supporting more of those 650 free and reduced lunch qualifying children and the families that are living alongside them in poverty hidden in the camouflage of their picturesque community of Saline.

Sean Dalton's picture
Sean Dalton
Sean Dalton is a veteran of the Washtenaw County journalism scene. He co-founded WeLoveDexter.com and WeLoveAnnArbor.com and also worked for Heritage Newspapers.