Assistance program in need of help

UCAP’S Mary Seney talks with Latarus Gaston about her utility bills.

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Since 1984, when Gladys Hair wanted to help those in need, United Christian Assistance Program (UCAP) has functioned on prayer. However, today UCAP has very little money in the coffers and staying in business has become “on a wing and a prayer.”

UCAP Director Charlotte Jones said high utilities and the pandemic have made it difficult for people to pay their bills … no job, no money.

“We have been paying $100 toward people’s utility bills,” Jones said. “Starting November 1, we are going down to $50 because we just don’t have the money to do more.”

UCAP workers are all volunteers, however, Jones said the pandemic affected some of them. There are now 13, many of whom work one half day a week.

Fundraisers, the heartbeat of the UCAP funding have suffered, as well.

“We haven’t had Hungerfest in three years,” she said of their fundraiser that included soup and a cake auction. Therefore, they have relied on the spring golf tournament, which brought in more than $22,000 in 2022. Sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t go far because during the month of July alone, UCAP’s total expenses were almost one/fourth that amount.

And that isn’t counting what goes out the door to help citizens.

“We spend five to six thousand dollars per month helping people with their utilities,” Jones said. “They bring their bill to us and we give them a check – made out to the city – for $100 (soon to be $50), and then they are responsible for the rest.”

That $5-6,000 may get the organization through one more month.

“If it weren’t for some carryover funds from 2021, we would be in the red now,” Jones said.

When Latarus Gaston moved to Minden in 2014, she was told about UCAP.

“We didn’t have anything like this in Gibsland,” she said. Gaston admitted having to ask for help is sometimes tough on the ego.

“But it’s been a real blessing because jobs are hard to find, and our utility bills are so high,” she added. “I don’t know where I would go if they weren’t here.”

UCAP receives support from more than 30 area churches and local organizations. But a large amount comes from private donations.

“It’s sad to say, but we’ve lost a lot of individuals this year who sent donations,” she said. “Many would send money faithfully every single month, and they have passed away.”

She would also like to put together more fundraisers.

“We don’t have anyone here who really knows a lot about putting those together,” Jones said. “It would be nice to have a functioning board again to discuss ideas of ways to bring in money. We need people who know how to do that.”

Jones said some people ask her how she knows which persons who come to UCAP are really in need.

“We don’t,” she said. “We aren’t supposed to. We are just supposed to help because we know it’s the right thing to do. Whether they are truly in need is not for us to determine.”

UCAP is normally open from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. Beginning November 1, they will be open (same times) Mondays and Wednesdays; closed Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

To make donations to UCAP, please mail contributions to P. O. Box 314, Minden, La. 71058-0314 or call 318-377-6804.