The safety net that helps the poor of Rappahannock County in times of need is feeling the strain of greater need.
The Rappahannock Food Pantry, the Rappahannock Free Clinic and the county’s office of the Virginia Department of Social Services are seeing more people coming to them for help — in some cases seeing as much as a 40-percent increase in requests for help over the past year.
Moreover, the agencies report, many of their newer clients are people who have never had to seek assistance before.
Agencies are doing what they can to help.
“Overall our program has seen a pretty big increase in patients over the past couple of years [41 percent in two years],” said clinical director Rob Marino of the Fauquier Free Clinic (which operates the bi-weekly free medical clinic in Rappahannock). “Many of these patients have never had to seek social services or charity help in the past. Some have recently had pretty good jobs but have since lost them, particularly in the building trades. There is very little construction of any kind going on, and many of our patients have come to us from that sector.”
The Rappahannock Free Clinic, open on the first and third Wednesday of the month at 491B Main St. in Washington, has provided 367 free care visits to Rappahannock residents as of Nov. 17, up from 353 covering the same period in 2009.
The figures include Rappahannock County residents who may have sought treatment from doctors and dentists at the free clinic in Warrenton, which is open more often — two days a week. But the majority were treated at the clinic in Washington.
The free clinic “provides basic medical care. Everything from rashes to diabetes and broken limbs either on the spot or we find a place,” Marino said.
The clinic can also help get drug prescriptions, “which can cost more than a doctor visit,” Marino said.
Many drug manufacturers have charity programs to help the poor obtain the medicine they need. Clinic staff fills out the multi-page application and the medicine is shipped to the office of the patient’s doctor.
The clinic typically sees 10 to 20 people at each of its sessions in Washington. Some patients have chronic conditions such as blood pressure problems or diabetes.
There are three nurses and at least one physician on duty. An office staff of three to four help with clerical duties and determine the eligibility of those seeking assistance. If they qualify, there is no cost to them for the services they receive.
If a patient needs lab tests or the care of a specialist, that is usually done through Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton.
The hospital spent $9.9 million on indigent care in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The figure is the highest in the hospital’s history, according to a story last month in the Fauquier Times Democrat. The number of patients served rose from 200 in 2006 to 500 so far this year.
Clinic expenses are covered by state, local, private and fundraising sources.
Busy at the Food Pantry
Struggling families have also been seeking help from the Rappahannock Food Pantry in greater numbers. The pantry served 694 people in October of this year, a figure that includes some repeat visitors. Clients are allowed to come twice a month, said Pantry Manager Mimi Forbes.
The pantry served 18 new families in October, compared to six in July. “We’ve served 48 new families in the last three months,” Forbes said. “More and more people are swallowing their pride and coming in.”
There are forms to fill out and income requirements to be met based on household income and family size. Social Security and disability compensation aren’t counted.
“We offer to help them with the paperwork,” said Forbes. “We’re not judgmental here. We kid them that ‘we just want your right arm and your left leg,’ and they laugh. It’s like a social hour here sometimes.”
She said job loss and medical issues are the main reasons people may find it necessary to turn to the food pantry for help.
The pantry gets much of its food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which supplies most of the pantries in Northern Virginia. In addition to what it buys from Blue Ridge, the pantry receives donations from churches and civic groups that launch food drives. And it gets food from the Rappahannock Plant A Row program, which encourages farmers and gardeners to donate fresh vegetables and fruit to the pantry.
Some food comes to the pantry from the federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This year, Rappahannock County is also paying to process legally hunted deer that are donated to the pantry.
The pantry stocks both perishable foods — such as milk and meat — and boxed and canned nonperishable foods. Pet food can also be obtained, though it’s not always available.
The pantry, staffed by volunteers who stock the shelves and assist those seeking food, is located at 603 Mt. Salem Ave., Washington. It is open to clients picking up items from noon to 4 Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10 to 2 Saturdays.
The pantry also provides clothing vouchers that can be used at the thrift shops in Washington and Warrenton.
Another somewhat less well-known source of aid is the Rappahannock Benevolent Fund, established two years ago by area churches to provide emergency assistance to the needy of the county. The fund helps pay for such things as electric and heating bills, mortgages and rent.
An anonymous $15,000 grant got the fund going and was matched by funds raised by the churches.
The initial gift came from a member of the community “who wanted to do something to help the poor,” said Rev. Jennings Hobson III, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington. The church administers the fund and Hobson serves as its treasurer.
“I’ve written checks for $120,000 over the two years” the fund has existed, Hobson said.
He said the money typically goes to pay for someone’s utility bills. Some goes to help pay rent or for transportation or medical needs.
“We try to be responsible” in deciding how to disperse the funds. If someone clearly needs help with personal money management, a member of the benevolent fund’s board, Doug Schiffman of Sperryville, works with the individual on that.
The fund last winter held a “celebrity waiter” fundraiser which pulled in $30,000 — and which was then matched by an anonymous donor. The annual event is again planned for this coming Jan. 29.
The fund doles out small amounts to those in need, Hobson said. The fund had a $60,000 budget for 2010.
Contacting the agencies
Rappahannock Food Pantry, 603 Mt. Salem Ave., Washington; phone 540-675-1177.
Rappahannock Free Clinic, 491B Main St., Washington; 540-347-0394.
Rappahannock Benevolent Fund, in care of Trinity Episcopal Church, 379 Gay St., Washington, 540-675-3716.
“Some of that is left but with cold weather coming it’s going to be history,” said Sharon Pyne, adult social worker at the Rappahannock County Department of Social Services, who also sits on the board of the Benevolent Fund.
Sometimes, Pyne said, someone who gets assistance returns the favor.
An elderly lady the fund helped by giving her $170 for an electric bill later sent in a $25 donation for the fund out of gratitude, Pyne said. This was a woman who was probably living on $500 per month.
At DSS, Pyne works with the elderly and works on cases of abuse and neglect.
She said exploitation is becoming a bigger problem “especially with the state of the economy. So-and-so has taken grandma’s money, or grandma’s given away all of her money.”
She also sees cases of self-neglect — someone not taking their medication and not going to the doctor.
“We’d like to make people aware that these are issues — neglect, exploitation, etc. — and everyone needs to help. It may need to be a common effort . . . We’re trying to educate people; you can help if you see someone not taking care of themselves.”
Pyne said her office as a whole has seen a 30- to 40-percent increase in applications for food stamps, Medicaid and heating assistance from 2009 to 2010.
“A lot of it (the increase) is from people needing emergency assistance with heating and food,” Pyne said. “The (Rappahannock) Food Pantry has been a tremendous help.” The Rappahannock Department of Social Services has its own “food closet” containing canned goods that staff can give out to clients. It also refers people to the Food Pantry, the Benevolent Fund and the Free Clinic.
“We’re seeing more families in emotional distress because of the loss of a job and loss of income,” Pyne said. “We’re seeing people who never had to file for things before. We’re seeing more middle class people who never had to go through the process.”
Larry Stillwell, county resource specialist at Aging Together, assisted in collection of information for this story.