Ashland Emergency Fund: “Locals Helping Locals”

Cynthia Whitty
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

This might be called the season for giving but one local organization, the Ashland Emergency Fund (AEF), helps connect donors year-round with those in need.
“Unless an emergency happens, like the apartment fire two years ago, our busiest time of the season is often the start of the calendar year. People need assistance at all times of the year, but this is when it is cold, and people need heating assistance,” Roland Houle, AEF chair, explained.
The number of clients AEF serves each year varies. “We normally help 50-100 families per year. If you count assistance we provide to the food pantry, that number goes up considerably,” Houle said. “In 2018, we raised around $97,000, and all of it was spent on local families. Our biggest portion of assistance goes towards housing. By assisting with housing, it often allows our clients to handle the numerous smaller bills they have. Utilities, property taxes, and other household expenses make up the next largest portion. This year we have several major medical-related cases we are assisting with.”
“We are currently on pace this year to spend at least as much as last year, but we are well behind on the fundraising to support that. We are hoping that in the coming months, we will make up that ground,” Houle said.
Needs can be as simple as a new backpack for school or a new pair of eyeglasses, but more often assistance is needed during a time when a family is displaced, there is a medical issue within the family, or a loss of employment.
“Each of these cases is unique, and each requires vetting of the current situation, the root cause of it, and formulating a path out of the situation,” Houle said. “In the case of major medical issues, we sometimes see a wage earner get sick, and their insurance does not cover their additional expenses, especially when their wages may also be reduced at the same time. There may be copays for medicine, special equipment needed, or even just travel and parking expenses going to appointments. When a family is displaced by a fire, the family needs clothes, food, and housing immediately. They have not have renters insurance or their insurance may only cover a small amount. The AEF can help them in the short term.”
Houle said that he had always donated to United Way, the Red Cross, and similar groups. “While they do great work and fill a need, I loved the idea that there was a local charity [Ashland Emergency Fund] that raised money locally and helped the locals,” he said. “The fact that the AEF is run entirely by volunteers and there is zero overhead—we give 100 percent of our donations towards assisting our clients—is also a big motivator for me. Very few charities can say this.”
Houle added, “The AEF is always humbled by the strong support we have always gotten from the Ashland community. The AEF is the epitome of how a community can work together to help each other.”
To donate, send checks or money orders to The Ashland Emergency Fund, P.O. Box 112, Ashland, MA 01721 or visit the website, and click “Credit Card or Direct Debit” to use the Network for Good online giving system. AEF also accepts monthly recurring donations via automatic online bill pay through banks. All donations are tax-deductible.
To apply for assistance, contact Assistant Director of Human Services Cara Tirrell by calling 508-881-0140, ext. 3, emailing [email protected] or stopping by the Ashland Community Center at 162 W. Union St. (Rt. 135). Individuals or families can also apply for assistance by completing the online form,