As discussed in a recent New York Times article (“Poverty in America is Mainstream,” 2013), nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period. In essence, destitution is becoming conventional in America. Who would ever think that people here in the Fishers/Geist area would face this type of adversity?
“In some of our schools in this area, 20 percent of students get free or reduced breakfast and lunch,” says Jeff Hern, Fall Creek Township Trustee. The trustee’s office provides short-term help when families need immediate relief before they can become stable again. Hern adds, “While we do live in a predominately affluent area, our clients range from those making over six figures and have lost their jobs to families working several jobs to make ends meet. Many families are struck with a medical situation where they have to miss work to care for themselves or their children which results in a loss of income. For those barely making ends meet, this can be a true hardship in avoiding disconnection of basic services such as electricity or water.”
Another common obstacle is when a spouse is left in divorce situations has to find a job to support their children. Hern recalls a time when a stay-at-home mom was forced to seek employment after her husband left her. Her car had mechanical problems, and she needed temporary transportation to keep her job. The Fall Creek Township assisted her with her utilities and used a joint ministerial fund with Delaware Township to pay for her car repair, allowing her to get to work and find stability.
Amid the holiday season, Fall Creek Township (FCT) collects for Toys for Tots by accepting donations onsite. FCT also participates in the Adopt-a-Family program by reaching out to local churches and contacting school principals to find families who need help providing gifts under the tree.
“Every kid deserves to open something up on Christmas morning,” says Hern who has served as trustee since January 1, 2011. “I would rather be proactive and reach out to find those who are struggling than to wait for them to find us. I don’t want a parent of a kindergartner or first–grader to have to explain why Santa did not show up at their home.”
The FCT office also provides these year-round services:
- Food pantry located onsite and is donation driven (open M-F 10-2)
- Back to school event that provides backpacks filled with basic school supplies
- Township assistance to help people in financial distress with basic necessities such as shelter, food, water, clothing, medicine, etc.
- Fire protection
- Burial assistance when no other means of payment are available
- Cemetery maintenance
- Weed control
- Fence disputes
- Rental space availability
- Computer use for seeking employment
As trustee, Hern has lowered taxes every year, moving from red to black financially, and has paid off all debts. He has helped expand relief care dramatically by growing the food pantry, implementing the back to school and adopt-a-family programs and working with Toys for Tots. Furthermore, he collaborated with the Town in preparing contracts for all unincorporated areas outside of Fishers to ensure that these areas would receive fire and EMS protection.
Although this is a part-time job for Hern, he remains on call 24/7 with calls from the police. Hern recalls an incident when the police contacted him about a 19-year-old boy living in the woods with nowhere to turn as he worked his nearby job. Hern provided him shelter with hotel arrangements only to learn that the boy would have to get up at 4:30 am to walk to work because he had no transportation from his hotel.
Hern said, “Don’t you worry, I will be here at 7 am to pick you up and take you to work.” This is just one example of how Hern and his colleagues in the trustee’s office work hard all year long to provide relief to those in need. They represent angels long after the Christmas season. Hern disagrees with this statement and humbly says, “We just want to help people get back on their feet again.”
The trustee’s office could use help in the food pantry. If you know of a student who needs community service hours or anyone else who would like to volunteer, call 317-841-3180.