When Louise Sallstrom sees someone in need, her heart leads her to help in any way she can. It is something she has been doing for years with Milledgeville Cares, an organization she started over a decade ago that she describes as “not your typical 501(c)3 nonprofit.”
“We volunteers are committed to listening and helping with hearts and minds set on changing lives for the better,” said Sallstrom.
At the onset of the economic downturn in 2008, Sallstrom was devastated to think about all of the people who would need to seek assistance just to get by. She began to envision how she could help bring like-minded community members and service organizations to one table with the goal of helping people in need get the resources they need in times of hardship. In November 2008, she planned a town hall meeting to bring such people together, and from it, the nine charter board members for what would ultimately be called Milledgeville Cares were selected.
Since then, Milledgeville Cares has gone about the work Sallstrom had envisioned to help those in need in the community. This included setting up a crisis hotline and forming a directory of services available in the Milledgeville-Baldwin County area, a directory that can now be found on the organization’s website.
“We strive to discover all the stressors on the family and find ways to help alleviate this stress any way we can,” said Sallstrom.
This help can come by making phone calls to people in need to listen to what is weighing on them and to help them find what they need. Often, the people they help lack smartphones and internet connection, and volunteers can help simply by providing them online access. Milledgeville Cares also hands out coupon books to help people with financial struggles to save money. They educate their clients on such topics as the importance of regular health screenings and vaccinations and the financial dangers that can come from relying on title pawn or payday loan establishments.
Most importantly, Sallstrom stresses that the organization’s volunteers provide assistance with compassion and “without prejudice or malice toward anyone.” She finds people who are struggling are often embarrassed to ask for help, and she hopes that by offering a supportive and listening ear, Milledgeville Cares can decrease the stigma often suffered by those in need.
Milledgeville Cares also accepts donations of clean, useful household items of all sorts ranging from hygiene products to furniture and strives to provide those resources to whoever needs them. People come to them with needs related to any number of issues, including job loss, domestic violence, house fires or bed bugs.
Milledgeville Cares also provides a framework for charitable organizations throughout the community to work with one another for the best interests of those they serve. By communicating which organization can provide what service, they can most efficiently meet people’s needs.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sallstrom says the needs have never been greater.
“The virus has caused an exponential rise in the numbers of people who need help, and the assistance they need is far more extensive than we have seen before,” said Sallstrom.
To help offset these struggles, Milledgeville Cares has created a Request for Assistance form that can be picked up at the Milledgeville Water Department or the Baldwin County Jail. Those in need can mail the form in, and Milledgeville Cares will do what it can to assist.
“From March to August, we have received over 60 applications, and by the grace of God, we were able to help over half of these with a total of $8,889.63,” said Sallstrom.
The pandemic has, in turn, led to hardships for Milledgeville Cares itself. As the organization is 100% volunteer-run, and everything that is donated to them goes back to the people they serve, the overhead costs of renting storage space for donated items has become prohibitive. Additionally, the organization has been without its own office space for over two years, making it nearly impossible to maintain the personal face-to-face service they prefer to provide. Without office space and because of social distancing, volunteers are forced to opt for phone calls instead of scheduling meetings with clients at the library or other public locations.
Sallstrom admits it is getting difficult to meet all of the needs she sees. She does a large amount of the organization’s work from her own home, and she fears without proper storage and office space, it will be difficult to continue. She desperately hopes that some area churches will be willing to step forward by providing Milledgeville Cares office space or climate-controlled storage to keep furniture and household donations safe for her clients.
Anyone else wishing to help out Milledgeville Cares can do so by way of financial contributions or by donating clean, usable household items and furniture. Sallstrom also says they are in desperate need of more volunteers who can deliver furniture to those in need. Anyone willing to help can contact her for details.
“We are extremely grateful for those who have donated financially to help those who need it so desperately, and we are indebted to those who have been willing to donate household items that are so necessary for those who have nothing,” said Sallstrom.
P.O. Box 754, Hardwick, GA 31034
Facebook: Milledgeville Cares