Crenshaw Churches Offer Financial Assistance To Struggling Residents
“It has been hard for a lot of families in Crenshaw to financially stay afloat,” Karen Downard said. Downard is the community programs and services manager at West Angeles Development Corporation, a non-profit offshoot of West Angeles Church.
West Angeles helps approximately 10,000 people seeking some kind of financial aid every year, and about 400 people each month. Downard said that prior to the economic recession, the corporation dealt with far fewer on both a monthly and yearly basis.
“Of course our biggest goal is to help the families that are in need right now,” she said. “We realize that unemployment is currently very high in Los Angeles so we try to provide for these families as much as we can.”
West Angeles provides gas money, donated work clothes and workshops intended to help unemployed individuals build strong resumes and learn job skills necessary to stand out in an interview.
The corporation also provides various emergency services for students by offering them discounted bus tokens and various scholarship opportunities.
“We help anyone in need,” Downard said. “If we come across a case where we don’t think that we have the facilities or resources to help someone, we refer them to another organization or company that can better suit their needs. Due to the fact that West Angeles provides help to anyone seeking it, the center also deals with mental health, abuse and addiction problems."
One such individual, Rafael, struggled with addiction issues in the past and turned to West Angeles as a last resort. He refused to give his last name.
“I was homeless," Rafael said. "I’m not ashamed of it anymore because now I know how stupid I was to get all messed up with drugs and stuff, and I want to make a change.”
“One day I just woke up and said, ‘forget this, I’m going to go get some help and get clean’, so I did,” he continued. “It’s just that easy.”
Prior to his visit to the center for financial assistance, Rafael utilized another West Angeles program intended to provide homeless men and women with food and personal hygiene items.
Rafael said he's counting on West Angeles to help him get back on his feet financially with a steady job and an affordable home.
“Our goal is to be a catalyst in the community,” Downard said. “We want to revitalize and stabilize it to bring it back to its former glory.”
With this aim in mind, the center hosted a successful toy drive last Christmas for more than 300 low-income Crenshaw families with children of all ages.
“We had some families with multiple kids, but everyone was able to walk away with something,” said volunteer Tamisha Mann. “That’s a really great feeling.”
Despite the flailing economy, there was no shortage of toy donations for the drive.
“You would think that the economy would make people feel less charitable,” she said. “But that definitely wasn’t the case. I think we had more donations last year than we’ve ever had before."
Mann said that a lot of people aren’t aware of the services the center provides.
"We’re not even the only ones doing this kind of stuff in the community," she said. "There are a lot of other churches and organizations doing a lot of good that no one hears about.”
Faithful Central and First African Methodist Episcopal Church also have similar, though less extensive, programs in the Crenshaw community.
“We didn’t just come to South LA,” Downard said. “We are South LA.”
Reach contributor Jessica Dallas here.