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University staff lends “Helping Hands”

After seven months of assisting laid-off University employees, the Helping Hands Program will be reevaluating its need on campus.

In response to a series of layoffs in January and April, Faith Olson, classified staff council member, created the Helping Hands Program in May to assist classified, or hourly, employees through the unexpected employment transition by collecting donations of food and staple items that cannot be bought with food stamps and donating leftovers to area food pantries. She said the program is collecting gift cards for the months of December and January, at which time it will reevaluate the need for the program.

‘We’re just trying to help them through that adjustment,’ Olson said. ‘As people come back to work, the need has been served.’

She said the Helping Hands Program could benefit from the new Employee Separation Plan, which allows employees with at least 15 years of service to voluntarily leave the University and receive payments of base salaries over a set period of time. Olson said while she always hates to see people go, if some employees leave, others may be able to come back, meaning fewer people would need the Helping Hands Program assistance.

‘It’s an individual decision. We encourage everyone to gather as much information as they can,’ she said. ‘They can make the best decisions for themselves.’

To date, the Helping Hands Program has helped five staff families total and continues to help three employees who have not been called back to work or found another job. Because some employees have been called back, the total number of laid off employees is unknown.

Judy Hagemann, classified staff council member, helps collect donations from a number of the two dozen drop-off locations on campus and brings them to the pick-up location in the Paulsen Room in Conklin, a Student Affairs space. Shampoo, laundry soap, diapers and pet food top the list of staple items that can’t be bought with food stamps.

Laid-off classified staff do not have to apply for help, just show up to the pick-up location on the designated days.

Hagemann said she knows laid off staff are very grateful for the program, which she considers a success.

‘The one that I know personally has a baby and he was in tears … when he got the assistance. He is back to work now. It was a wonderful thing for him to fill that gap,’ she said. ‘It’s like helping our own family too.’

University President Carol Cartwright said the Helping Hands Program is great because anyone who was laid off and had financial issues knew there was extra support available.

‘It’s the sort of thing that demonstrates the great community spirit at the University,’ she said. ‘Everybody benefits from joining hands.’

Olson said the response from the University community has exceeded her expectations, with pounds of items and more than $800 worth of gift cards to Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer and other stores donated.

‘The generosity of people around the holidays never ceases to surprise me,’ she said.

Olson is still accepting gift card donations for the program through January, which can be donated to her in room 444 in the Education Building.’

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