PENNSAUKEN The old saying that charity begins at home provides a fitting description for an unusual Pennsauken help group.
Pennsauken Neighbors Helping Neighbors has made it its mission to help the needy in the town - not just during the holiday season but whenever financial aid is required.
Since it was started in 2006, the group has helped more than 150 families by providing grants to ease hardships brought on by illness, job loss, or other emergencies.
"We do it all year round," said founder Bill Orth. "As long as we see there is a need there, we try to take care of it."
The idea came several years ago, after Orth and others heard of a group of Eagles fans who rallied to help a fellow season-ticket-holder who had fallen on hard times.
Among their beneficiaries has been the family of a child who needs oxygen 24 hours a day; they lacked electricity because of unpaid utility bills. Another family needed assistance with car repairs to enable the primary breadwinner to get to work.
Orth said the bulk of the assistance requests have been from families whose utilities have been disconnected. The group has also helped a student pay tuition and a teacher purchase books.
"They just say over and over again, 'Thank you so much,' " said Orth, a former township mayor.
"It's rewarding. Helping others benefits us more than them. It's amazing," said Orth, who currently heads the Pennsauken Sewerage Authority.
Although Pat O'Connell has not lived in South Jersey for more than a decade, he became a benefactor after learning about the group from his father, Hugh, who lives in Pennsauken.
"I'm a big believer in what they do," said O'Connell, 44, an executive with Ameriprise Financial who lives in Avon, Conn. "They make a difference."
Neighbors Helping Neighbors gets about 50 applications a year requesting assistance, Orth said. "Some exceed our possibilities."
The applications are screened by a seven-member board and grants are awarded based on need. Those selected can receive up to $1,000. Recipients are eligible for only one grant per year and their names are kept confidential. The payment is made directly to their creditor.
The group raises about $30,000 a year through fund-raisers and donations, Orth said. Township employees also contribute through voluntary payroll donations.
Local businesses ranging from Terry's Styling Salon to Inglesby & Son Funeral Home have embraced helping neighbors.
These and other businesses around the township have piggy banks in their establishments to collect donations from their patrons, Orth said. "We don't stop raising money," he said.
The group has organized a holiday pops concert as its latest fund-raiser to meet the demand for help. It typically also has an annual golf outing or walk.
The South Jersey Pops Orchestra will perform Saturday at a joint fund-raiser, along with the Pops Strings and the Pops Brass Quintet. Proceeds will benefit the orchestra and the neighbors group.
This is the second year that the orchestra, comprised of local amateur musicians of various ages, will hold a holiday charity benefit. Last year, the group raised money for Hurricane Sandy victims.
"We are happy to perform in that community," said South Jersey Pops board president Christian Stebbins. "They directly help residents in need."
Said O'Connell: "It goes to what life is about, and that's making a difference and helping others."