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Operation HELP sees increased need, utilities tell the tale

Operation HELP has begun to notice the effects of downturn in the nation's economy, according to Monica Weekes, president of the charity's board of directors.

Last spring when utilities were allowed to turn off the fuel and electricity to customers who were behind on their bills, the organization got more than the usual number of calls from people asking for help.

"We got a lot more utility calls in early summer and through the summer," said Weekes. "Our numbers are up. Pretty much every year we see more people struggling."

At last count, Operation HELP had assisted 274 families or individuals with paying utility bills or their rent in 2008, according to Weekes.

Bob and Mary Nasvik started Operation HELP as a Christmas project in 1981, but its main mission today is helping people who have had an emergency in their lives pay their bills.

"We're usually working with people who don't have a lot of savings - who are living paycheck to the next paycheck or child-support payment," Weekes said.

Having to stay home from work because of illness, or the illness of a child, can cause a financial emergency for them, Weekes said. Sometimes it's the breakdown of a car or the loss of a job that puts them behind on their bills.

Many of those served are single mothers and, sometimes, single dads.

Weekes said she expects the needs of the economically vulnerable to continue to grow if the economy deteriorates further and more jobs are lost, as many are predicting.

The positive news amid all the gloom is that the Hudson community has responded generously to the need, according to Weekes.

On the Thursday before Christmas, Operation HELP volunteers presented gifts to 70 needy families living within the Hudson School District.

The items, collected and distributed at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, included clothing and toys for children, as well as paper and personal care products, bath towels, and a blanket or quilt.

"The churches are marvelous and the middle school this year was just fabulous," said Weekes.

She said St. Patrick Catholic Church was especially generous in providing personal care items for families.

The "Money Wars" conducted by students at Hudson Middle School raised enough cash to buy needed items for a number of families, she said.

Weekes said local foundations, businesses and individuals also responded liberally to Operation HELP's one fund-raising appeal of the year, a letter mailed in early December.

The Hudson Community Fund board turned down a grant request so it could direct more money to Operation HELP this year, according to one of its members.

Jennifer Lukas coordinated Operation HELP's Christmas distribution.

"She's another dynamo," Weekes said of Lukas.

Tammy Holland runs the Warm in Winter program that provides coats, caps, mittens and boots for children.

The cold snap in mid-December produced a lot of calls for that program, said Weekes, many of them from school counselors who had noticed children in need of winter clothing.

Part-time coordinator Laurie Halverson is the only employee of Operation HELP, which Weekes said is "really volunteer-driven." The organization has a desk and a telephone in St. Paul's Episcopal that the church provides free of charge.

Donations to the charity should be mailed to Operation HELP, 502 County UU, Hudson WI 54016.

Call (715) 386-0881 to request assistance.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066