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Published on January 19, 2021

Chronic disease forcing Cape Codders to seek help

CCT Needy Fund

The Cape Cod Times Needy Fund has been helping Cape and Islands residents through crisis since 1936.

Now, one of its recent initiatives addresses a long-standing problem: the way chronic or infectious illness -- diabetes, cardiac disease, cancer -- upends people financially.

“Often that means there’s financial stress in the household or someone has lost the ability to work or is in the process of applying for disability, which can take one to two years to get,” said Betsey Sethares, the Needy Fund’s executive director. “The household is destabilized by chronic or long-term illness.”

The Needy Fund was founded 85 years ago by the then-Cape Cod Standard Times as a way to provide Thanksgiving turkeys to families in need. It became a separate nonprofit in 1983. It has always focused on helping with daily and immediate needs: paying groceries, utility bills, childcare, transportation, housing, home repairs and medicine, for example. No cash ever changes hands; vendors, whether the electric company or the landlord, are paid directly, Sethares said.

The Needy Fund also helps connect people in need with other resources, such as Elder Services of Cape Cod, Housing Assistance Corporation, legal assistance and mental health counseling.

“We are often the first call because we have been around so long,” she said. “And, we pride ourselves on our relationships with other organizations to make sure clients get the help and support they need beyond what we can provide.”

Based on requests Needy Fund staff were getting as well as health trends, it made sense to target people struggling with chronic and long-term health issues, Sethares said. For example, in 2015, 23.4 million people had diagnosed diabetes in the U.S., compared to only 1.6 million in 1958, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. As of 2013, more than 8 percent of people living on the Cape were dealing with some form of diabetes, according to the Cape Cod Times.

The Needy Fund and Cape Cod Healthcare formed a partnership in 2018 to target financial issues surrounding chronic disease. In 2021, the fourth year of support, the healthcare organization provided a $20,000 restricted grant through its Community Benefits initiative, which, as with earlier grants, will be matched by the Needy Fund.

“A lot of the time, if someone needed help with transportation it was because they needed help getting to the doc appointment,” said Sethares. It just made sense for us to be working with Cape Cod Healthcare.”

Wide Variety of Requests

Poverty and income make dealing with chronic health issues like diabetes even more challenging, said Stephanie Martinez Greer, the Needy Fund’s program and community benefits director. “Access to fresh and healthy foods is based on your ability to pay for it. Food pantries are making an effort to provide healthier foods but still it’s hard to get fresh food from the pantries.”

The Needy Fund conducted a survey of people who were helped through the chronic care program and the answers are telling. The 78 respondents cited epilepsy, spinal disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, Stage 4 lymphoma and brain damage, among other conditions. They asked for help with a wide variety of basic problems including food, moving expenses, utility bills, rent, childcare, heat and car insurance.

“We’ve gotten more and more requests through Cape Cod Healthcare as a result of people coming to the Emergency Room because they didn’t know where else to go,” Sethares said.

The program lowers stress -- an additional health risk -- in households that are already struggling with chronic disease, she said. “Lots of people told us in the survey they had decreased anxiety after talking to us because they had no idea where else to turn.”

Or, as one respondent said, “[I’m] less stressed … able to get kids where they need to go; huge weight lifted.”

Cape and Islands residents needing help can contact the Needy Fund Monday through Friday at 1-800-422-1446 and speak to an intake counselor. All inquiries are confidential.