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$1 MILLION NEEDED TO HELP MEND PROJECT.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Marianne Haver Hill hit the ground running Monday morning, knocking on the doors of some very expensive offices, hoping to come up with some of the $1 million she needs by Jan. 1.

If the executive director of MEND -- the San Fernando Valley's largest poverty-assistance agency -- gets the money to complete an $8.5 million expansion, thousands of people who rely on the agency for their most basic needs will be the big winners.

Meet Each Need With Dignity doesn't receive a dime from the government to help clothe, feed, educate and meet the medical and dental needs of the Valley's neediest residents.

Its funding comes from grants, individual contributions and corporate donations -- like the Kresge Foundation, started by the founders of Kmart, that has offered MEND a $400,000 grant if it comes up with the last $1 million for its new facility.

Heck of a challenge.

MEND has outgrown the 10,000-square-foot building in Pacoima, where only a decade ago it was helping 11,000 people a month keep their heads above water.

Today, it's helping 42,000 people a month -- and the demand is expected to rise. That's why the 40,000-square-foot building set for completion next month is so vital.

``You can't offer dignity to people if you don't have the space,'' Hill said.

Most of those who seek help from MEND often work two or three minimum-wage jobs and still don't make enough to pay the rent, buy the food and clothes, and get their kids to the doctor and dentist regularly.

``In the last three years, we've seen a two- or threefold increase in the number of homeless families who can't afford the cost of housing in this city,'' she said.

``They've lost their place and can't afford the first and last months' rent on another one. When welfare reform was passed in the mid-'90s, it had a five-year limit. It's expired for them.

``One-third of the Los Angeles population is uninsured. Those are the people we're targeting with health and dental care.''

When Hill became executive director of MEND nearly 20 years ago, the agency provided only emergency food and clothing distribution, and English-as-a-second-language instruction.

Today, it's a full-service center for the poor. In addition to food and clothing distribution, the new facility will have health clinics, showers for the homeless, and a reception center for the agency's 2,100 volunteers to help the 42,000 people who need it every month.

``Our present building will become an enlarged education and training center, and will give us the space to reopen our furniture distribution program,'' Hill said.

With or without that last $1.4 million in donations, MEND will be moving in January to its new quarters at 10641 San Fernando Road.

The question is whether it will move in with a hefty mortgage or not.

``As a poverty agency, we pride ourselves on low overhead,'' Hill said. ``An average 95 percent of the support and donations we receive provide food, clothing, furniture, medical and dental care, job-skills training, job-placement assistance, and youth classes.

``If we have a big mortgage to pay, that's money that won't be helping our clients.''

So, she hit the ground running again Monday morning, knocking on the doors of some very expensive offices, hoping to come up with some of the $1 million she needs by Jan. 1.

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3749

HOW TO HELP

For information on helping MEND, call (818) 897-2443 or see www.mendpoverty.org.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Marianne Haver Hill, executive director of the poverty-assistance agency MEND, gestures in the food bank storage area of the agency's new facility on San Fernando Road in Pacoima that is set to open in January.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

Box:

HOW TO HELP (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 5, 2006
Words:636
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