The two of them were working through St. Stephen Catholic Church to help a family who was badly in need for Christmas. They soon discovered that the family’s house had no heat, the washing machine didn’t work and that they slept on the floor because they had no beds.
They had $500 to help the family, but once they arrived, they had already spent the money in their heads, Stagner said.
Ariagno and Stagner quickly went to work trying to improve the lives of the mother and her four children. The mother’s car needed a tire, so they bought one. They needed food and new clothes, so they received those too. Ariagno said they even got their first Christmas tree that year.
Despite all the progress they made, though, Ariagno said she didn’t feel like they were finished.
“How can you help them at Christmas and know they’re going to be hungry in a few months?” she said.
Stagner said that Wanda Carr at the Department for Community Based Services encouraged them to continue helping people by starting a charity organization. The idea was pretty intimidating at first because they didn’t know anything about how to start something like that, but they decided to go ahead with the plans anyway.
Ariagno said that attorney C. A. Woodall III helped them file for 501(c)(3) status, which grants charitable and non-profit organizations exemption from federal income taxes. They also had to assemble a board of directors, which would include a chairperson, a secretary and a treasurer. Helping Hands then became official in February 1997.
Although Helping Hands provides many services for Cadiz’s low-income households, Stagner said that the food bank, located in the basement of the courthouse, is their most important contribution. Ariagno said that about 100 families rely on the service every month.
People in need of food are required to live in Trigg County and have to meet a certain maximum income. All of this information is kept in their records, which Stagner said must be perfect to keep their 501(c)(3) status.
In order to judge whether or not a family is really in need, Stagner said she sometimes has to ask very personal questions, which can sometimes offend people. She said that a man recently became very angry when she asked him things such as when and where he last worked and how many people lived in his household.
Stagner said, though, that this is all necessary to make certain that their resources are used as wisely as possible.
Keeping track of their records has become easier for Helping Hands since Phil Graham stepped in several years ago to compile everything on a computer. With all the information at their fingertips, the more than 35 volunteers have a much easier time finding what they can and can’t do for those who come in.
The food comes from many different places. Some of it is donated directly to the food bank, while some is bought with money donated to Helping Hands. Some of it is dropped in a box at Hancock’s Neighborhood Market. Much of it is federal surplus food, some of which comes through America’s Second Harvest of Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown.
Ariagno said that people are often surprised to find out how important their services have become because, in a small town like Cadiz, poverty isn’t on display for everyone to see. This is partly because of the work Helping Hands and other charity groups do for the community.
Helping Hands also sometimes assists families with their electric bills and other emergencies. These include when the family car breaks down or when a family doesn’t have enough money for gasoline when prices shoot up. Graham also sometimes helps people apply for free medicine.
“Those little things that we all take for granted aren’t there for everyone,” Ariagno said.
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.