About two years ago, Jamail Aikens took over the directorship of Saline Area Social Service (SASS). United Way had just drastically reduced their yearly contribution to SASS and the future of the organization was in jeopardy.
In spite of the challenges, the organization has remained, buoyed by contributions from individuals and organizations in the Saline community. Furthermore, they have been able to move into a much larger building donated by St. Joseph Mercy Health System and upgraded by a host of local volunteers.
But while the new building has made program management easier, the group can only survive with a steady stream of financial contributions from local people. Currently, SASS has only enough funding to take them through the next few months.
“We are doing all that we can to serve the residents in need here,” Aikens said. “We are having very successful food drives and are getting the food that the community needs, but we need the operating support to continue to provide the programs and to continue to pay the staff to be here.”
SASS has about four food drives per year: the Saline District Library collection in June, the Community Food Drive in August, the Simply Give Donation Program through Meijer and a National Honor Society drive in December. They also receive food donations from individuals and local groups and they get a weekly delivery from Food Gatherers.
Besides providing food, SASS also offers their clients products for personal hygiene, laundry, children’s school, paper products and other needed grocery items. Recently they collected 130 school backpacks for the children of client families.
“Diapers are really important because they are not covered on public assistance and they can be kind of expensive,” Aikens said. “So we are glad to be able to provide those when we can.”
But food and household goods is not all. SASS helps needy families in many other ways. Among these are paying for eye exams and glasses, assisting with prescription copays, helping families avoid eviction and helping with utility bills.
Recently an 80-year-old woman with no family was about to have her electricity cut off because she could not pay. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a program to help people retain their utilities in the winter, but they offer nothing in the summer. SASS was able to help this client.
Paying to meet these needs and continuing to pay salaries for Aikens and three part-time staff costs about $20,000 per month or $240,000 per year. SASS has been the beneficiary of much food help and thousands of volunteer hours – for which they are very grateful – but developing a stable base of cash donors is their biggest need at this time.
Currently, SASS is in the midst of the Community Food Drive. Over 100 volunteers from Keystone Community Church, about 40 Saline High School football players and dozens of Saline Middle School Cross Country runners contributed to the food collection on Saturday. Volunteers from several other area churches also helped.
Altogether, about 200 volunteers helped with the drive. The stockpile of food was getting quite low, so this will be a big boost for the agency.
Looking back on his two-year tenure, Aikens is happy with how it has gone. He says the experience has exceeded his expectations.
He describes his job as “to be really able to walk with all people of all sectors of life here and then to hopefully be able to bridge that gap a little bit, so you have the ‘Haves’ and you have the ‘Have Nots’ and you have the community and you have people helping people.”
To donate to Saline Area Social Service, click here.