The ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter came close to shutting down on a week-by-week basis because of financial troubles, but a surge of donations saved it, officials say.
ACCESS’s finances dropped near the red after the shelter had to pay unemployment and a worker’s compensation settlement in recent months, according to Jim Sturm, chairman of the ACCESS board.
What’s more, grants totaling between $30,000 to $50,000 from the Kentucky Housing Authority have dried up in the past two years after ACCESS, which has housed 94 men and cooked about 10,000 meals since Jan. 1, fell behind on paperwork, he added.
Prospects grew bleak, and ACCESS considered closing the men’s shelter and laying off its seven-person staff on a week-by-week basis until additional funds came from the United Way sometime in July, said Andrew Baker, ACCESS’s executive director.
“But luckily we don’t have to do that,” Baker told The State Journal Tuesday.
The shelter, which operates on a roughly $120,000 annual budget and gets $23,000 from the city and county combined, sent letters to donors asking for funds during the typically slow summer months, and soon individuals, churches and other groups sent checks, some as much as $3,500.
Baker said the community’s response has been overwhelming.
“I put it on our Facebook page all the time how overwhelmed I am at how people give and continue to give,” said Baker, who took over the shelter in December.
“And it’s not just monetary – it’s donations, it’s volunteering, and sometimes it’s even asking some of these guys to help out with yard work.”
Sturm, who helped open the shelter in 1984 after a homeless man froze to death beneath the Capital Avenue bridge, said the financial setbacks have shown ways that ACCESS can grow despite needs like a stove, refrigerator, freezer and ice maker.
In the worker’s compensation matter, for example, Sturm said ACCESS had hired someone, typically a resident who showed leadership qualities, to supervise the shelter at night for a $40 stipend plus room and board.
The state frowned on the arrangement and ordered the shelter pay minimum wage, effectively doubling the supervisor’s salary, and back wages, Sturm said.
Still, the shelter will keep the position because it teaches residents responsibility and other important job skills.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked whether the shelter planned to keep a supervisor on staff. “In fact, we’re building on that. Rather than just feeding people and giving them a place to sleep, we want to give them some permanent direction in their lives and help them with their life skills.
“… This is taking a little more money and takes a lot of Andrew’s time, but I think it’s very important.”
Complicating the matter, Sturm said, was dealing with employees who had problems with drugs or alcohol. The entire staff has been replaced over the course of several months, he said.
“The group of men that I have working for me now I think are outstanding,” Baker said. “These guys have had no problems since they’ve been living here.
“They fit in really well, and things kind of turn over at the soup kitchen as far as employment goes, but this group that I have right now, including the two women who are my kitchen managers, are a great team.”
There have been other recent changes at ACCESS. Baker has a drawer full of updated resident files and other paperwork for the housing authority, and the soup kitchen has started using trays instead of paper plates to cut costs.
The shelter will also partner with first lady Jane Beshear on a still undetermined fundraiser, Baker said.
Beshear donated tulip bulbs from the Capitol grounds earlier this year to ACCESS and other community food banks to sell for $1, and that effort brought in roughly $1,000 for the shelter, according to Sturm.
The first lady said local shelters are a resource to communities as well as the homeless, especially since many shelters face financial trouble of their own in the current economic climate.
“Access Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter is a tremendous asset to Franklin County and I encourage area citizens to help support this important community resource,” Beshear said in a statement.
Magistrate Jill Robinson, who founded the Franklin County Women’s Shelter in 2008, said ACCESS provides an essential service for men who would otherwise fend for themselves each night for a place to sleep.
The men’s shelter is a critical part of Franklin County’s support network, Robinson said.
“We don’t want anything to happen to (ACCESS),” she told The State Journal. “We partner with them, give them things, and they give us things. I absolutely don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Baker hopes to improve ACCESS’s exposure in the community. He regularly posts pictures and comments on the soup kitchen’s Facebook page and is a well-known commodity in South Frankfort.
But on top of everything, Baker wants to change the lives of homeless men. The shelter not only helps residents find jobs, but it also hosts Triple Crown Cowboy Church for services 10:30 a.m. every Sunday at ACCESS’s Second Street location.
Baker, a former youth pastor at First United Methodist Church, played guitar at the inaugural service.
“We’re part of these guys’ lives more than just a place for them to sleep,” Baker said. “We could have a positive influence because of where we are in their lives.
“It’s great to be able to do that, and that’s not just the men at the shelter – it’s also the people in the community who come here for the soup kitchen, eating every day.”