OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council challenged the county this week to step up its allocations in this year’s budget to support the Diakonia Foundation.
According to the foundation’s website, for more than 30 years Diakonia has been helping individuals and families in Worcester County and on the Lower Shore by proving shelter, food, clothing and the resources to rebuild their lives. Diakonia is the only comprehensive provider of emergency and transitional housing for men, women and families in Worcester County.
Representatives of Diakonia came before the Mayor and City Council during Wednesday’s budget meeting to request $40,000 in its special appropriation fund this year as opposed to the $25,000 City Manager Dennis Dare proposed to allocate.
Last year Ocean City allocated $25,000 to the foundation and Worcester County allocated $27,000. In need of additional funds this year, Diakonia also asked the county for additional funds and the town of Berlin for funds for the first time.
“The request this year does reflect an increase,” Executive Director Claudia Nagle said. “We don’t anticipate that it would be an ongoing need, but because of the level of need that we are seeing it does request an increase. … The last year has been a very difficult year economically for many people and businesses in Worcester County. We have really stretched our resources and our creativity … to meet the need of our community.”
Treasurer Tom Wilson explained the economy has caused the foundation to become “slammed” and the demand for Diakonia’s services has been overwhelming. In 2008, it gave out 2,500 bags of food out of their food pantry but this year it was 12,000, and they served over 50,000 meals.
“This year through our homeless prevention program we kept 160 Worcester County residents, including some from Ocean City, from becoming homeless,” Wilson said. “We have exhausted our reserves.”
He said that the foundation has stepped up its fundraising but people just don’t have the money to give. The allocations given by local, state and federal governments are also just not what it used to be.
“We turn away approximately 80 people a month because we don’t have capacity,” Wilson said. “We need to keep going, we need your support, you have helped us in the past and it’s a difficult time for us, we have been fishing hard to find additional avenues for resources.”
Councilman Joe Hall said he understands why the demand for Diakonia’s efforts has increased, but explained there is a risk to growing a contribution from government for the simple fact that the private sector will then think they “are off the hook”.
“I hope we do an increase,” Joe Hall said. “I hope that we do it in some form of a challenge … we would challenge the county to match our increase.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said that Diakonia is a sustainable program with a positive history of success and that is hard to achieve under any standards or under any means.
“Your service is vital to the area,” Meehan said.
The mayor also agreed with Joe Hall that if Ocean City does do an increase its contribution should be in a form of a challenge.
“That fact that you’re here today is telling us that you really need it. This isn’t something that you really wanted to do,” Meehan said. “In today’s world and in today’s economy, I don’t know what we would do if Diakonia wasn’t there.”
Councilman Joe Hall made the motion to challenge Worcester County to increase its contribution to Diakonia up to an additional $15,000 to meet the $40,000 requested, which was seconded by Councilman Doug Cymek and passed in a unanimous vote.