Garner Cleveland Record

Programs help with families below poverty line

From 2009-2013, 8.6 percent of Garner’s population lived below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

That compares to 11 percent within Wake County, 16.2 percent in Raleigh, 12.4 percent in Clayton, 10.3 percent in Fuquay-Varina, 6.2 percent in Cary, 2.5 percent in Apex.

But while the poverty rate remains relatively low compared many other places in the county, many families continue to struggle buying Christmas gifts for their children, let alone survive on low-incomes. Programs within the city are helping parents in low-income situations help pay for Christmas gifts for their children.

Amy Miller, started her “Shop with a Cop” program when she was a resource officer 10 years ago. It wasn’t called “Shop with a Cop” at the time. Students at her school raised money for a family in need. Over time she started asking schools to identify families in need of Christmas gifts. By 2007, she helped expand it to the Garner Police Department.

Now each year, Miller contacts schools in the area, and asks counselors if they know of any families having trouble during the holidays. The police department throws a party for the kids the day before then goes shopping at Wal-Mart the next day. Wal-Mart provides a 10 percent discount to the families in the program. Miller said the program has served up to 42 children. This year, the program helped 28 children in need.

Community of Hope Ministries also has a program in which they sponsor families and children at Christmas. For 10 years, Community of Hope, birthed out of First Baptist Church, has provided services to about 10,000 families.

“We firmly believe the Lord has provided this program for the community because there was a need to help children at-risk,” program director Amy White said. “There is a significant need here in Garner.”

Vann O’Neal, a single father of three, participated in both programs when his family fell on hard times two years ago. His three children are 18, 12, and 8. His 18-year-old is getting ready to go to college.

A former truck driver, his ex-wife walked out on the family, forcing him to try to find a new job.

“Now I’m struggling to stay in my home and actively seeking employment,” O’Neal, 57, said. “A truck driver by trade is not very conducive to taking care of kids.”

O’Neal said it has been a struggle the past couple of years. He said the day his family participated in the “Shop with a Cop” program, he didn’t have $2 in his pocket. He now cuts grass and takes care of lawns to try to make ends meet. He also cuts grass for people in low-income housing, which he doesn’t always get paid for. O’Neal said he sympathizes with their situations so he doesn’t say much.

““They are good people, but they are just down on their luck for whatever reason,” he said. “We have people living in tents in the woods and it’s enough to be startling,” O’Neal added. “It’s all been real sobering to me, because I’ve always had what I needed and just a little bit more. And now I’m scraping.”

O’Neal said Community of Hope has been a great program for his family. It has helped provide Christmas presents for his kids when he didn’t think he’d have any.

“I can’t say enough of the program. It’s probably the only reason I’m standing up,” he said. “It’s pretty tough when you put an ‘I owe you’ under the Christmas tree from Santa Claus.”