This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

It might be a toothbrush, or clothes that fit. It might be a working smoke detector or a bar of soap.

The needs of children and families being served by the Caldwell County Department of Social Services are big, and they’re wide – encompassing all areas of life. Sometimes the difference between having those needs met and going without is the difference between a child staying with his or her family, and a child entering the social services system.

That’s why Caldwell County DSS has a fund entirely supported by community donations, so social workers can try to meet material needs before a child’s safety is endangered.

The money comes entirely from DSS’s summer fundraising campaign – the Children’s Charity Cup Golf Tournament and the 500+ Who Care Charity Campaign. No local, state or federal funds are involved.

Caldwell County social worker Lindsay Cabe used the fund when a child she was working with needed medical care. The child needed to see a specialist, but gas prices were peaking near $4 a gallon and the family couldn’t afford to drive to the appointment. They didn’t have Medicaid. They had missed several appointments already. If they missed another, they risked having their child taken into foster care.

“There was no other problem,” Cabe said. “It’s not that her parents are trying to not feed her or keep her clean or keep a roof over her head. They’re not beating her or anything like that. They’re a good family that just couldn’t make it.”

So Cabe used the fund to pay for a tank of gas.

Social worker Sharon Kime was working with a mother who couldn’t pay her rent – and hadn’t been able to for several months. She was about to be evicted, and if she wasn’t able to provide shelter for her children, they might have been placed in foster care.

“It really was down to the wire,” Kime said. “She had, at the time, no available funds to pay the rent. It was either help her out with the rent, or the child would have had to come into our care.”

Kime used the fund to pay the mother’s rent.

Another Caldwell County social worker, Jessica Lo, was working with a mother who had just received good news: She had been offered a job after a long stretch of unemployment. There was just one problem: She couldn’t afford the required background check.

Lo used the fund to pay the cost.

In 2012, Caldwell County DSS received 1,172 reports of abuse and neglect involving 2,398 children. The agency served an average of 224 children per month in foster care.

But DSS’s involvement with families isn’t always about physical abuse. They have to step in when parents are unable to provide for their children, too.

When families can receive help – whether monetary or material – children can often stay in the home. But funding that comes from the government, or from grants, is tightly allocated. Families don’t always meet the necessary criteria.

And that’s where the fund comes in.

“You don’t have to meet certain criteria” when it’s being used, Cabe said. “You don’t have to meet a certain household size or income limit, those eligibility pieces that are on most kinds of programs and services. We don’t have those constraints. So it’s really about, if we see a need, how can we meet it?”

The fund serves several purposes. It takes some funding pressure off the county. In 2012, it paid for toothbrushes, clothes, lice treatments, smoke detectors, and contracts with exterminators. And social workers hope the fund gives them more credibility with local families, showing that DSS doesn’t exist to take children away.

At its best, the fund keeps children at home.

“They get to stay with their family, in their community, in their home,” Lo said. “You know, it might not be perfect. It might not be the best thing in the world. But that’s home to them. That’s what they know. That’s their world, and we get to keep it intact for them.”

To buy a ticket, or for more information on the tournament, contact Lorie Hollar at or 828-426-8323.