Brenda and Don were better off than most working-class couples, Brenda said, because they owned their own home up in Catalina. Don's job as a pressman and hers as a certified nurse's aide provided them with what she calls a "normal lifestyle."
But life has a way of taking normal and turning it to chaos in short order. First, Brenda lost her job due to degenerative joint disease; shortly thereafter, Don was permanently injured at his job. With belt-tightening and an occasional visit to the Catalina Resource Center for food, the couple was able to get by and still hold onto their house.
In February, however, the Social Security Administration told Brenda she was accidentally overpaid in disability payments last year and, therefore, her February payment and one-half of her March payment were going to be withheld. At the same time, "some sort of computer error waylaid Don's workers' compensation payment" Brenda said. Faced with losing their home, Brenda turned to the Northwest Interfaith Center, 2820 W. Ina Road. After determining that the couple was eligible for help, the staff at NWIC wrote a check for their mortgage, got them an emergency food box and paid for Brenda's medication for her joint disease.
Brenda and Don are two of thousands of people who have received help at the NWIC over the past year. A coalition of 20 faith communities in the Northwest who provide emergency assistance to people in need, the NWIC was founded in 1985 by Rev. Barbara Anderson and started with five churches and a handful of volunteers. Any faith community can join - member congregations range from Jewish to Baptist to Baha'i - and the center helps community members regardless of race, age, gender or creed.
"Our very clear purpose is to help people in our community to live a more fulfilling life by helping them stay independent," said NWIC Executive Director Bonnie Kampa.
To that end, NWIC offers emergency social services to qualified individuals and families and long-term services such as Mobile Meals to the elderly and homebound.
"We serve primarily the 85705 and 85719 Zip code areas, but all of Oro Valley, Marana, Catalina, areas primarily north of Prince Road," said Ida Michael, a caseworker at NWIC. "But we can help anyone in Pima County. "
Kappa said Brenda and Don's case is typical of the people NWIC helps.
"It is the working poor quite often … a lot of people really have to make the choice between medicine and food, or they need help with things to get a job, like paying for birth certificates," she said, adding that it was a false stereotype that everyone in the Northwest is affluent.
"Many people are living paycheck to paycheck and it only takes one thing - a serious illness like cancer, a job loss, an injury - to put them one step away from the street," she said.
NWIC receives nearly two-thirds of its funding through private donations and corporate gifts and one-third from various state and federal grants, including those from the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, the Pima County Community Services emergency assistance funds and the Pima County Development Block Grant.
This year's $330,000 budget includes $60,000 for Mobile Meals, $125,000 in direct assistance funds and $115,000 for two full-time salaries and seven part-time salaries for staff members. The remaining $30,000 goes to pay for utilities, printing, office supplies and the $1 per year rent NWIC pays to Christ the King.
Referrals to NWIC come primarily from member churches. The social services branch of NWIC has two arms, a food bank and the Good Samaritan Program, which provides assistance and short-term case management for families and individuals in emergency situations. The center offers help with mortgage or rent payments, prescription medications, food vouchers or back-to-work expenses such as permits, identification and clothing.
More than $124,000 in emergency funds were given to 1,204 households in Northwest Pima County last year through the Good Samaritan program, Kampa said, and nearly 3,500 households (12,771 individuals) received emergency food boxes.
The long-term services branch of NWIC provides meals to shut-ins through Mobile Meals, phone calls to homebound or elderly through Telecare and rides to appointments, respite visitation and household repairs through VICaP, or Volunteer Interfaith Caregivers.
An average of 75 people are served Monday through Friday on NWIC's 13 Mobile Meals routes, which delivers two meals a day to each client in the program, said Kampa. NWIC contracts with eight providers, primarily hospitals and retirement villages, for the Mobile Meals food trays at a cost of $4.25 per day per person. The clients pay on a sliding-scale basis.
"About 66 percent of the people we serve cannot pay the full price, but we do not turn people away," she said.
Thirty people are currently being served in the Telecare program, Kampa said. These folks are homebound or elderly without any local family, and are called by a NWIC volunteer each day to "just say hello and check on them to make sure they are OK."
VICaP primarily offers rides to appointments or grocery shopping to the elderly, but small household repairs and visitations are also offered. In all, nearly 3,800 services were provided through VICaP last year.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the NWIC, said Kampa, and the vast majority of them come from the faith communities that are members of NWIC. The average volunteer works a three-hour shift and some work once or twice a week while others may work only once a month, Kampa said. The 400 volunteers at the center logged about 23,000 volunteer hours at NWIC last year.
Molly Batten, 103, has been receiving phone calls from Telecare "for I don't know how many years" and also has benefited from visits and transportation from VICaP volunteers.
"The Northwest (Interfaith) people are more than kind and they still call and check on me even though I'm in a nursing home now," Batten said. "They are the nicest bunch of ladies you will ever know. I don't know what I would do without them."
"They are all wonderful people and I really don't know where we would be if they hadn't helped us. I hope we can be on our own again, but it is nice to know they are there if we need help again, " she said. "They are being very supportive."
The Northwest Interfaith Center is hosting its Third Annual Walk-and-Rock-a-Thon March 1 at CDO Riverfront Park on Lambert Lane between First Avenue and La Canada Drive. Last year's event raised $6,000 for the center from the 50 walkers and rockers who participated, said Donna Bauman, coordinator of the event.
Participants collect donations for miles walked or amount of time spent rocking in rocking chairs, Bauman said. Community members interested in participating can call the center at 297-6049 for pledge sheets before Saturday or simply show up the day of the walk and participate. Registration is at 8 a.m. with the walk beginning at 8:30. Rockers must bring their own rocking chairs.
Free T-shirts will be given to the first 50 walkers and water and snacks will be provided, Bauman said. In addition, the Tucson High School Steel Band will provide entertainment for the morning.
For community members who cannot participate in the Walk-and-Rock, there are other ways to get involved in the center, said Joyce Lyons, NWIC volunteer coordinator. The following are some of the Center's more pressing volunteer needs:
Spanish-speaking volunteers for the Food Bank
Drivers, nurses and dieticians for Mobile Meals
Drivers to escort homebound Senior Citizens to appointments.
Front-office volunteers for the reception desk for four-hour shifts.
If you are interested in volunteering, call Lyons at 297-6049.