HARBERT — Neighbor by Neighbor, founded in July 2017 thanks to a grant from The Pokagon Fund, is a confidential, free-of-charge short-term program to help people with an immediate need get assistance to meet that need.

The program aims to link people to food pantries and nutrition programs; the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Social Security/Disability; housing assistance in areas such as security deposits, evictions, homelessness, utility assistance and repairs; legal assistance; substance abuse help; aging-related challenges; child care; transportation; clothing/persona hygiene. In some cases, direct aid also can be provided.

Church of the Mediator served as the program’s fiduciary the first year. Harbert Community Church now in its second year of administering the program.

Megan Bolinder was the resource and referral specialist for the first year, with Stephanie Rutherford filling that role in the second year. Now Linnea Berg and Peg Kohring are sharing the role as case workers.

“We pass the phone and computer back and forth” and stay in constant contact,” Berg said.

Kohring said on March 19 that Neighbor by Neighbor had a large uptick in people contacting them for assistance as the coronavirus crisis gains momentum.

“We’re doing all of our work with a virtual office so people send the bills and we work them through and then send out the check,” she said.

Neighbor by Neighbor can be contacted by phone (269-231-0648), email (info@nbynharborcountry.org) or on the Neighbor by Neighbor Facebook page (@nbynharborcountry). The website is www.nbynharborcountry.org.

Berg said The Pokagon Fund realized that a lot of people in Harbor Country were not accessing services available to local people but located in St. Joseph, Benton Harbor or Niles and wanted to find an organization to link people with services and access resources. She said the now defunct HELP For Southwest Michigan had previously published a booklet filled with information in available resources.

Berg said two of the top issues that people in Harbor Country area seek help for are related to housing and utilities.

“We even arrange for cords of firewood to be delivered to people who use wood to heat their homes, or fuel oil to be delivered,” she added.

Berg said many people who contact Neighbor By Neighbor are seeking food.

“We can link them with various pantries and promote the mobile food pantry program.”

Some need transportation, and Neighbor by Neighbor can give gas cards to people within its service area through a client services fund.

Berg said Neighbor by Neighbor also is promoting completion of the Census in the area it covers though a mini grant from Berrien Community Foundation, noting “For every person who doesn’t complete it, Berrien County loses $1,800 a year (a total of $44 million a year is at stake).”

In the middle of March everyone is supposed to receive a postcard with a number and instructions — they can do the 9 questions online as well. Those who don’t respond will get a paper copy of the census questionnaire later.

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