Small federal grant goes a long way in Hill County


A small but important infusion of federal grant money used to help Hill County's less fortunate residents is slated to arrive early next year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the county $6,400 for fiscal year 2004-2005, according to an agency press release.

The money will fund things like food, clothing, and emergency rent and utility payments, said Diane Savasten, who chairs the board assigned to oversee Hill County's share of the grant money. The grant is part of the Emergency Food and Shelter program, which will distribute $153 million this year among more than 2,500 cities and counties. Montana's share of that money totaled about $353,000.

Hill County's portion of the grant money will be distributed to a number of organizations in the community, Savasten said. The agencies write letters to the local FEMA board, which then decides how much to award each agency. The money typically becomes available by the end of January.

Those agencies that apply for funding under the grant program must be considered eligible under FEMA guidelines.

"Any nonprofit is eligible," Savasten said. "They have to have some connection to the types to things that FEMA funds. It needs to be a provider of services to people."

Local recipients of the FEMA grant money in the past have included the Havre Food Bank, the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, the Salvation Army and the local American Red Cross.

Savasten, who has been involved with the EFS program for 12 years, said the amount of money awarded to Hill County has gotten smaller every year.

"It's gone down," she said. "Last year, Hill County received $6,600. It has been as high as $12,000. Every year it goes down."

Although local recipient agencies ypically receive only several hundred to a couple thousand dollars, they stress the impact the money has on the needy. Donald Low, director of Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, said $300 to $400 in grant money goes a long way toward providing meals for the hungry. Each meal served at the soup kitchen costs between 75 and 90 cents.

"It's very important to us," Low said. "Every little bit helps."

The Bear's Paw District of the American Red Cross uses the money to help poor families who face financial emergencies, said Vicke Schend, who chairs the local Red Cross board.

"We can use it in emergency situations for rent money or a deposit, or if they had some tragedy in their personal life that caused them to fall behind in their utility bills," she said.

The money is especially important because other Red Cross funds can only be used in disaster situations, like when a family is displaced by a fire, Schend said.

"The Red Cross emergency funds are separate from these grant funds," she said. "With these funds we are able to assist a few more individuals that our Red Cross donations are not typically allocated for."

Six or seven families received money from the local Red Cross last year, Schend said. In addition, some of Blaine County's share of the grant money was used by the Red Cross to fund gift certificates for food, Schend said.

"We purchased gift certificates for the grocery store there, so if a family were in need of some emergency groceries, it could be handled that way," she said. "We felt that was the best use of the money in that community."

The Salvation Army also uses the grant money to make food purchases, local director Ralph Guthrie said.

"All of that money is used for emergency food," he said. "We just use it to replenish our pantry - canned goods, soups, things of that nature."

Guthrie said allocations of the grant have decreased in recent years, but that the money still finds those who need it the most.


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