Helping hand for the Jackson County neighbors in need

Jackson Neighbors in Need is all about giving to the community. Photo taken by Jessica Wooten

Poverty in Western North Carolina is high and Jackson County resembles that picture, even though it’s not so obvious. According to the US Census Bureau, more than 20 percent, or around 8,000 people are poverty stricken. To combat the poverty, local community is helping and Jackson Neighbors in Need (JNIN), for the past nine years, has been as well.

JNIN is operated by community volunteers and strives to serve three functions: running a cold weather shelter, providing heating assistance during the winter weather months and in-home weatherization projects, which is a way to keep people in their homes. It offers the services of a case manager, who works with homeless people and families. The case manager works to get them connected with organizations for any kind of health issues and whatever kind of assistance they need, including permanent housing. This housing would include an apartment, mobile home or house suitable for long-term living. JNIN follows up with each family or person placed in a permanent house, apartment or mobile home to make sure they’re doing okay.

“We have had a very challenging year. We’ve served 51 people already since Nov. 1, 2016. Just recently there was a family who was homeless, who we were able to get into a shelter– a mother with 7 children. Can you imagine being a mom and having to look at seven little faces and saying, ‘we don’t have a place to sleep tonight.’ There was a wonderful person who donated a Yukon SUV, so that there was room for all seven children,” Vice Chairman, Judy Annis, said. JNIN works with local hotels and motels to shelter families in their times of need.

There are many families in similar situations that have children and are either sleeping in their car or wherever they can find shelter for the night.

Jackson Neighbors in Need works closely with the Jackson County Department of Social Services. They send people that are homeless and/or are looking for heating assistance to DSS first and then United Christian Ministries. DSS offers special income-based programs to help with some of these issues. Randal Moss is a Family and Children’s Medicaid/Food & Nutrition Services Supervisor at DSS and is also on the JNIN board.

“If a person has a bill they can’t afford to pay, such as an electric bill and they come in to DSS, they’re normally sent to me. At that point, I’m going to get them in touch with the right people and help them get taken care of,” explained Moss.

If people don’t meet the guidelines at DSS or need more help than DSS can give, they can go to JNIN. JNIN collaborates with many different agencies and organizations in Western North Carolina, including Mountain Projects, The Community Table, local landlords and churches.

Guests enjoying their dinner, provided by Harrah’s Casino, at the fundraising dinner.

“We work closely with The Community Table. Right now, they’re providing 40 meals a day for our folks. Amy Sims, the head of the CT is on the JNIN board. The people and families who are being sheltered through Jackson Neighbors in Need can go over to the Community Table and have a meal,” Annis said.

JNIN is able to help partly with its annual fundraising dinner, “Continue the legacy.” This is their biggest fundraising event that was started in 2013, in memory of former member, Charlie McConnell.

“You could ask almost everyone here and they would remember Charlie. He worked incredibly hard to help out out community,” JNIN Chairman, Patsy Davis said.

The event consisted of dinner, provided by Harrah’s Casino, and a silent auction. Many local organizations donated items for the auction, including WCU, Dunkin Donuts, Quin Theater and Bogarts. This year, they raised over $12,000, according to longtime member, Ruth McConnell. That money will go towards providing resources for families in need.

Photo taken by Jessica Wooten

WCU Volunteers – (Front Row, Left to Right) Anna Russell, Lauren Rhyne, Morgan Hall and Stefanie Conley, Associate Director of Catamount Club. (Back Row, Left to Right) Bobby Gibbs, Lavell Ellerbe, Chris Seaborn, Nathan Dalton, Corey Holloway and Kendall White.

There were many volunteers that contributed to the success of the JNIN, including ten students and faculty from Western Carolina University. Some volunteered in past years, but for many it was their first time volunteering at the fundraising dinner.

“I do this because it’s a great experience to be around these people. I love getting in the community and helping people and serving. I volunteered [ at this fundraiser] last year and plan to continue to come to this as long as I’m at Western,” WCU junior, Corey Holloway, said.

There a many things that WCU students and faculty can do to help Jackson Neighbors in Need. Of course, donating money will always help, but it’s not the only way to reach out and make a difference. Here are a few things you can donate that will help tremendously:

1. Money
Even if you put aside the money you spend on one Starbuck’s coffee a week, that money can and will make a difference for a family in need. All monetary donations can be brought to Mountain Projects at 25 Schulman St, Sylva, NC 28779.

2. Unused/ Gently used Items
Anything that you don’t use anymore like a spare heater, shoes, packaged items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste can be donated.

3. Your Time
JNIN works on many projects throughout the year. They need volunteers every year for the fundraising dinner, but they also need volunteers to help with in-home weatherization projects. Those projects can include fixing siding on a house or even redoing insulation.

If you have an interest in donating or volunteering with Jackson Neighbors in Need, please call their office at 828-586-5561.