(June 14, 2019) Worcester Youth and Family Services is calling for donations as part of its recently launched “Every Child Needs” campaign.
The organization requests towels, hygiene products, as well as bedding essentials: pillows, blankets, sheets, and pillowcases.
“We want to go forward as far as offering the basics, but then going forward as far as trying to get kids mattresses if they need them, beds if they need them so we’ll need to find additional community partners to accomplish that,” Debbie Smullen, project coordinator for the Every Child Needs Campaign, said.
Executive Director Steve Taylor said the program is mostly donation-based, but added the organization did receive a grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.
Taylor said the inspiration behind the program began several months ago during the Young Professionals of Ocean City’s Christmas Spirit Shopping Campaign.
The organization took more than 80 children on a $100 tax-free shopping spree at the Berlin Walmart on Dec. 1, 2018.
“Well this past year, the kids were asking for pillows and blankets and bedding and things that shocked us because in previous years it was always toys,” Taylor said.
At first, Taylor said organizers thought “maybe it was an isolated incident,” but upon further investigation, officials learned some “kids are sharing beds [and] sleeping on couches.”
“The school system has told us in the past that some kids will bring a backpack to school with clothes in there because they don’t [know] where they’re sleeping that night,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services helps 80 children through the organization’s numerous programs, but it also provides assistance to about 150 families.
Taylor and Smullen agree having a working relationship with school guidance counselors can help in finding out what children need.
“I think one of the biggest things is to bring awareness to the problem,” Smullen said.
Taylor also said addressing the employment issue in Worcester County is crucial.
“It’s about … half of the families in the county that are living paycheck-to-paycheck or worse,” Taylor said.
Taylor emphasized the importance of area resources including the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore’s ALICE report.
The acronym, which stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed, according to United Way, investigates “households that earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the county.”
That definition is also known as the ALICE threshold, according to United Way.
According to the 2016 ALICE Report, the following Worcester County towns were at varying levels of poverty:
• Berlin had 1,696 households, and was at the 47 percent ALICE and poverty line.
• Ocean City had 3,435 households, and was at the 37 percent ALICE and poverty line.
• Ocean Pines had 5,212 households, and was at the 27 percent ALICE and poverty line.
• Pocomoke City had 1,600 households, and was at the 66 percent ALICE and poverty line.
• Snow Hill had 844 households, and was at the 59 percent ALICE and poverty line.
There are 10.3 percent of individuals living below the poverty line in Worcester County, according to the U.S. Census.
“A lot of work needs to be done to try and resolve the employment needs that exist in Worcester County,” Taylor said. “People are earning money but it’s not quite enough for them to save or even be prepared for basic needs as they come along or emergency needs.”
The poverty threshold is $25,750 for a family of four living in the lower 48 states in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2019 poverty guidelines.
“In Worcester County I just think there are so many children that really desperately need help, and I really don’t think that the community as a whole really realizes the actual need,” Smullen said.
While the program was recently launched, Taylor said his organization has started receiving roughly “100 pounds” of donations including toiletries, blankets, pillows, sheets, and quilts.
“The people in this community are very very giving,” Taylor said. “So we have not lacked that community support at all. So when we put a call out … stuff starts rolling in.”
Taylor added Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services relies on several groups, including members and churches. They’ve also tapped into using social media accounts to help spread awareness.
As for future donation endeavors, Taylor said he hopes to call for donations using various platforms. He expressed his gratitude to the public for their ongoing support.
“I think that we just need to thank he community because when we again we’re not the ones doing it: we put out the call and it happens,” Taylor said. “So it’s really the generosity of the community that makes this program successful.”
Those interested can call the organization at 410-641-4598 or drop off items at the facility on 124 S. Main St., Suite C in downtown Berlin.
“[The] main thing is to get these things and get them out to the kids,” Taylor said.
For more information, visit Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services website at gowoyo.org.