Urban Ministries re-launches fundraising campaign

Feb. 11, 2014 @ 09:12 PM

The crowd thinned in the lobby of Urban Ministries of Durham on Tuesday as Mary Holsclaw and her husband waited to be called back to accept food and clothing donations.

For two months, Holsclaw said she and her family have rented a home. But now they’re behind on rent, light and water bills and fear eviction.

They moved to Durham about a year and a half ago when her husband lost his job at a construction firm, she said. Previously, they lived with one of Holsclaw’s daughters, but don’t want to return.

“I do not know what we are going to do,” Holsclaw said. She said she’d like to find administrative work, but said it’s difficult to put in 40 hours per week looking when the library restricts users’ Internet time, and when they’re also applying for different kinds of financial assistance.

They sought help with food and clothing through Urban Ministries’ food pantry, which provides canned food, toiletries, clothing and other items to 26 households four days a week.

Bryan Gilmer, director of marketing and development for the nonprofit, said the homeless prevention and aid organization has success soliciting donations from the community over the holidays, but they must work harder to remind people that those needs exist at other times during the year.

“It’s one of the surprising things,” he said.

To help raise money for the food pantry and other operational costs, the organization is re-launching a fundraising campaign called “Names for Change” in time for Valentine’s Day.

Through the campaign, via the website namesforchange.org, donors can buy naming rights to items such as cans of vegetables or shelter beds under their own names or in honor of loved ones.

The campaign originally launched in November through a partnership with the Durham-based advertising agency McKinney. In total, so far the campaign has raised $45,634 for the nonprofit.

Gilmer said that based on how much money the nonprofit estimates that it takes to end homelessness permanently, that means that the website has raised enough to end homelessness for about nine people.

Although naming rights to a perishable item like a can of vegetables may be temporary, the donor gets a certificate that can be customized.

They thought it would be a good idea to re-launch the campaign for Valentine’s Day, Gilmer said, to appeal to people who have agreed “they don’t need more stuff” on the gift-giving holiday, and for those who also don’t want to battle crowds going out for dinner.

“By showing love for a member of the community who’s in-need, it’s a way of showing love for someone who’s special in your life,” he said.

The website solicits donations using lines like “Fact: Nothing says ‘be mine’ like ‘I named these Vienna sausages for you,’” or “Instead of writing a love poem, name this pen after your sweetheart, and give someone the chance to write a new future.”

Gilmer said the site, with its light-hearted tone, offers a gentle way to give attention to the problem of homelessness.

The needs of the nonprofit’s food pantry have grown across the 14 years that Jean Mrosla has volunteered at the nonprofit.

“People are turned away,” Mrosla said. “The need has grown so much.”

Families bring home bags of canned vegetables, rice, evaporated milk and and other items from the food pantry. Each household can access the pantry once a month.

Gilmer said the nonprofit sees some repeat faces waiting for pantry donations as food-stamp benefits sometimes can’t provide for a family for a month.

But he also said that during a recent snow storm, a mother came in who needed help feeding her children. He said that normally she could rely on free and reduced lunch at school, but didn’t have money to feed her children when school was out.

“I’m glad that she heard about us somewhere in the community,” he said.

Matt and Christy Haislip were part of the group waiting to access the food pantry. They said they had walked to Durham from Guilford County to enroll in a program of the Durham Rescue Mission, a Christian-based nonprofit that provides shelter and addiction help for the homeless. But Matt said they lacked identification, so they couldn’t enroll.

They have slept in abandoned cars and received help from a church, he said.

They took shelter at Urban Ministries on Monday night under the nonprofit’s open-door policy that takes effect when temperatures drop to dangerous levels.

Matt said they need to register at the shelter to get their identification cards, but haven’t been processed yet.

They became homeless after Haislip said he was picked up by the police on prior criminal charges. Both were jailed, and Matt said he lost his job and his vehicle. His charges have included failure to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge of shoplifting.

They waited for clothing donations because Haislip said they were wearing the only clothes they have.

“These are our only coats,” he said. “(We have) no other change of clothes.”