Community corner: Helping families in crisis

By Drew Johnson

Welcome back to our new column—explaining South County Community Services. I’m only sort of kidding… of course this is still the Community Corner, I just didn’t realize how much there was to explain about SCCS until I got a few months into this series!

Emergency financial assistance is one of the bigger things that we do at SCCS—it’s certainly the most expensive. When they are in financial crisis, we help people pay for services that are connected to their basic needs — food, housing, transportation, and medication. That ends up looking different for each family, but usually it involves some sort of payment of bills for services that are in imminent danger of disconnection. We do not give people money directly. We instead pay their provider

We often work with the Fred’s Pharmacy for medication, the villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg for water, Indiana Michigan Power and Consumer’s Energy for power and gas, and several distributors for deliverable fuel. Most of the time, we are helping families get through short-term issues with employment, health insurance coverage, or large and unexpected expenses. This is important because more than half of households in America live paycheck to paycheck, and many cannot afford even a single large shock to their monthly budget.

We do have an annual cap for assistance for families but work hard to get them connected to local churches or other basic needs agencies if we are unable to tackle the problem on our own—as our former Director Danna Downing says, “We want to help build a ten-foot bridge for a ten-foot gorge.” Eight feet doesn’t cut it.

A big part of what our emergency assistance coordinator, Austin Wiggins, does when he meets with families is make sure that they are receiving all assistance that they are entitled to from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services — a notoriously difficult agency to work with. He helps people apply for food stamps, Medicaid, and assistance on utility bills. So far in 2022, he has helped clients apply for and receive over $10,000 in utility assistance from the State of Michigan — money that is going directly to low-income residents of our service area. With his help, SCCS also applied for and received a federal grant for Emergency Financial Assistance that has allowed us to distribute an additional $25,000 in basic needs assistance this year.

This is all good news, because we are finding that families are in a much more precarious situation than they were in 2019, or even 2020 and 2021. Many more people are having issues with housing, which affects everything in their lives, and even if people can get housed and are able to work, 10-day isolations due to COVID can wreck even the most careful budget for hourly workers. We work hard to marshal all resources available in these cases to make sure that families in the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Climax-Scotts areas have a safety net when the worst happens.

I hope you all are enjoying learning about what we do here at SCCS. Next month I’ll write about some of the programming that we host for South County residents, and then we’ll be back to our regular columns. Thanks for following along!

Drew Johnson lives in Kalamazoo and is the director at South County Community Services. He has a small quarter acre homestead with chickens, bees, and hops (and more!), a wonderful wife, and three energetic children. He can be reached at 649-2901 or

For more information on South County Community Services, please check out our Facebook page at or visit our website:

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