By Nick Carey // Contributing Writer
Persisting economic struggles this holiday season have placed a greater emphasis on the work of local organizations dedicated to easing the worst effects of poverty.
The Rutherford County Salvation Army, Room at the Inn Day Shelter and the MTSU Food Pantry make up just a few.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau findings, 12.7 percent of Rutherford County and 13.7 percent of Cannon County residents live under the federal poverty line, which the U.S. Department of commerce set at an income of $11,702 or below in 2011.
The Room at the Inn Day Shelter provides not only a shelter for those who have fallen on hard times but assists other local agencies in need. The average age of the temporary resident is 33, according to Director Christine Huddleston. Past residents range in age from 85 years to 5-days-old, and the shelter is home to any in dire straits.
Some of those affected do not have the proper documentation to get assistance from food banks or food stamps, and Huddleston and The Room at the Inn “try in any way to assist their needs,” Huddleston said.
Along with the Rutherford County Salvation Army, Room at the Inn serves as the only other shelter housing for those in need within the Murfreesboro city limits.
The Salvation Army delivers a multitude of services for individuals in the Murfreesboro area. Along with operating its 34-bed shelter, the organization provides hot meals each night, hygiene kits, food baskets and a fully functioning church.
“We always have and need volunteers because of all the things we do – from volunteers serving our daily meals or going out and bell ringing and Angel Tree projects during the holidays,” said Lt. Andy Seiler, one of two Corps Officers serving the Murfreesboro area. “We have great community involvement year round.”
The Salvation Army’s bell-ringing project serves as the most noticeable of its activities during the holiday season. Local, unemployed individuals work as bell-ringers, which is a short-term resolution to unemployment, Seiler said. The donations gathered through the event fuel the budget of the Rutherford County Salvation Army for the year.
College students represent another demographic who might experience lean holidays. The two-month-old MTSU Food Pantry serves only university students on and off campus.
Becca Seul, who serves as an academic adviser, said an increase in the number of homeless students in the last two years triggered the pantry’s opening.
Approximately 70 students have utilized the facility.
“We plan to continue to provide as much support as possible to our students,” she said. “For those students with larger needs – food, clothing, and shelter – we have community partners in place to help them to get back on their feet.
“Despite financial constraints at some food pantries nationwide, MTSU’s continues to garner support from the campus and community, Seul said.
“We’ll continue to do all we can as long as we can,” Seul said.