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Clover assistance center adapts to new system

It isn’t easy asking for patience from people in need of food, but Clover Area Assistance Center clients are hearing the message.

“You just deal with people with a smile, and before long they’re all smiling,” said volunteer Peggy Hormberg.

On Thursday morning, a day when clients line up an hour and a half before the center on Highway 55 East opens, Hormberg was outside explaining how the new process works. She explained why only a few clients could come in at a time, why it might take a little longer than usual.

“It’s just a transition,” Hormberg said. “Transitions are always hard.”

The center closed for two weeks during the holiday season, as it does annually. It stayed closed a third week as volunteers learned a new computer system that can link CAAC with similar groups in its network, allowing shared client data. As more local agencies and churches join Charity Tracker, the database interaction among providers will help to ensure local resources are going to those in need. The service costs $15-$25 a month. The system also helps agencies identify individual needs, stop potential fraud and track client success.

The center re-opened Jan. 12 with plans of taking 10 clients at a time. There were 56 people.

“We have been swamped, absolutely swamped,” said Karen van Vierssen, CAAC director. “It hasn’t slowed down at all.”

That first day, volunteers stayed to hand out food almost two hours after the center closed. Yet, volunteers say, the new Web-based entry system was needed. The last upgrade was in 2006.

“Our old system was antiquated and it could not be moved to new computers,” van Vierssen said.

The new system adds a level of professionalism. It used to take 11 volunteers to do what one volunteer does now to enter client information.

On Thursday, volunteer Rose Stapleton continued learning the new system while hearing stories of homes close to foreclosure and similar levels of distress. Stapleton, who used to help hand out food, is the main client entry volunteer, and admits the new system was a challenge initially. She was chosen because of her background with computers, van Vierssen said.

The new system also keeps better track of each person to improve service, van Vierssen said.

“We can help people better if we know what their needs are,” she said.

During the transition, some families have been told to come back the next day. A typical day at CAAC brings in 30 people for food, another five for financial assistance. The lower volume capability as volunteers learn the system is leading to longer lines forming earlier.

“The word is out that it’s taking longer,” van Vierssen said. “The word is out that not everybody is getting served.”

So far, even families in need of the most basic items are cooperating with the center.

“We’re trying to explain why,” van Vierssen said. “For the most part they’ve been understanding.”

Financial and living basics classes are expanding, and CAAC continues in its goal not only to provide food and money but to help people provide for themselves.

“Our goal is to help people become self-sufficient,” van Vierssen said. “We want people to be less dependent.”

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