Community With A Heart campaign is underway


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Posted December 4, 2020 | By Susan Smiley-Height, Ocala Gazette

Life can be rough anytime — but has proven to be even more challenging in the time of a pandemic. That is one more reason organizers of the annual Community With A Heart campaign are working harder than ever to help meet the needs of area residents.

The campaign, which accepts donations year-round, really kicks into gear the first week of November and runs through the middle of January. The nonprofit group is governed by a board of 13 members, who are affiliated with area help agencies. People can apply for assistance for such needs as a car repair so someone can be able to get work, or for rent relief in the face of eviction.

Applicants must present documentation of the need and, in order to receive assistance, also must demonstrate self-sustainability.

“Community With A Heart is a hand up, not a handout,” said Monica Bryant, board chair. “Applicants typically have had a major life event, such as unexpected hospital bills, but if Community With A Heart helps them get back on their feet, they must be able to sustain themselves, in other words, pay their bills.”

The board members meet once a week during the eight weeks of the active campaign to review applications that have been vetted by a case worker. As part of that process, the case worker will make a home visit — or, given current social distancing requirements, a porch or outdoor visit — to talk with the applicant. That person also must show some certification of need, such as two estimates from a vehicle repair agency if they are requesting help to get their car running.

“The board reviews case by case and votes on who receives support. It has to be a majority vote,” Bryant said. “And no money goes to the person; it goes to the landlord, or the car repair shop, or whatever.”

She said the program has been in existence for 35 years and has helped hundreds of people in that time. There is a cap of assistance at $1,200 and approved applicants may not apply again for five years.

“This community has a heart to help people,” Bryant said. “For some people, Community With A Heart is a lifeline. We can help with past due property taxes to keep someone from losing their home, for example, but we won’t help with credit card debt.”

To donate, send checks to Community With a Heart, P.O. Box 1777, Ocala, FL 34478. Donations are tax-deductible. There are no overhead costs and every cent donated goes to help residents of Marion County.

To request assistance, people must seek a referral by contacting one of these agencies: Marion County Children’s Alliance, Brother’s Keeper, Interfaith Emergency Services, Marion County School Social Services, Salvation Army, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Inc., Ocala Housing Authority, Soul Harvest Ministries, Isaiah Foundation, City of Ocala, Central Florida Community Action Agency, Marion County Community Services or Habitat for Humanity of Marion County.