The state has designated a Payson group that helps pay bills for people facing eviction, loss of their electricity, loss of their cars and medical emergencies as a “qualifying charitable organization,” which means people can get a tax credit of up to $200 per person for a donation.
“We’re hoping this is going to be the best thing that’s ever happened to us,” said President John Zilisch.
The group has been facing a record-breaking number of pleas for assistance, increasingly from families with children in which the parents can’t find work.
“This past year has been very difficult,” said Zilisch, who noted that the group has cut its average grant from about $250 to about $100, just to make its donations stretch further.
“Several times our bank account was nearly depleted. However, just when it looked like we might have to close our books, financial help arrived from the people of Payson. It was a tough year, but at no time did we have to turn any deserving family away.
The group is now appealing to people to make a donation, noting that they can get a straight tax credit for any amount they donate up to $400 for a couple filing jointly.
Anyone who wishes to donate can send a contribution to: Payson Helping Payson, Box 231, Payson, AZ 85547. The group will send back a form that can be used when applying the $200 per person tax credit at income tax time.
The group relies on private donations and help from various Payson-area churches. Most of the donations this year have been small gifts from individuals, but one person gave $3,500.
Payson Helping Payson also works closely with the local St. Vincent de Paul food bank and that group’s parallel program that pays crucial bills, including rent.
Both Payson Helping Payson and St. Vincent de Paul do home visits and take other steps to make sure their money goes to people with a real need.
Payson Helping Payson started in 1992, but in the past year had struggled to meet a surge in requests for help. The group raises $15,000 to $20,000 annually. It doesn’t give the cash directly to people who need help, but does pay things like rent, utility bills and other urgent expenses.
So far this year, the group has helped about 300 people.
“We’ve faced our highest demand this year —fortunately, we’ve also had the highest amount of support,” said Zilisch, who retired from a career with the Caterpiller tractor company and moved to Payson eight years ago.
Historically, most of the people who turn to Payson Helping Payson have been seniors needing help to get through the month as a result of some crisis — often a medical problem.
“Now we’re seeing an awful lot of younger people — single mothers who have been laid off, families where both of the parents have lost their jobs. The mix of cases we get has really changed,” said Zilisch.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” he said. “We’ve had so much need that we’ve had to reduce the amount we give in many cases, to make the money go further.”
Fortunately, the number of new cases has stabilized in the past few months.
Zilisch said that might reflect the number of people who have simply given up.
“I think that a lot of people have moved back with their parents or given up and left town.
“It’s leveled off — unfortunately it’s leveled off at a pretty high level,” he concluded.