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Dave Hardin,
Public Information Officer  


The history of Catawba County is the focus of several ongoing projects.  Dr. Gary Freeze of Catawba College and Sidney Halma, retired director of the Catawba County Museum of History, are hard at work on the third volume of The Catawbans, the most extensive history of the county ever written.   I’ve seen drafts of the third volume, covering the period from the end of World War II until the mid 1990s, and I’m excited about its release sometime in the months to come. 


I’m equally excited about a book that is available now.  Help In Hard Times is a history of Catawba County Social Services.  It was written by Margaret Day Allen, Social Services’ Public Information Officer.  My hope this week is to tell you just enough about what Margaret has written to interest you in examining and buying the book, without giving away any of her stories. 


This isn’t a standard chronological history like the textbooks of my school days.   It doesn’t just start with the beginning of what became Social Services in 1919. It begins when the county was founded in 1842 and the County Home (or “Poor House”) was established, and moves to the present time.


Margaret has taken several major events in American history that became the driver of programs to care for children, seniors and others in need and researched how Catawba County met those times.  The first is the American Civil War.   Men went away to war and didn’t return, putting women in new and strenuous roles of providing for families.

After the Civil War, the so-called “Gilded Age” brought unprecedented industrial expansion and technological advancements.  But it also led to calls for social reforms to address such issues as children working unbelievably long hours in unsafe conditions. The seeds for today’s Social Services were being planted and Margaret uses these eras as the springboard to discuss programs helping at-risk children, many of which are still in existence today.  


It will come as no surprise that the Great Depression and the New Deal programs that helped families get back on their feet, and the new social programs of the mid 1960s, are also a focus of the book.  Margaret writes about the founding of Sipe’s Orchard Home in 1945 and the development of food stamps, Medicaid, transportation programs and much more.


The Great Depression created some of the services that led to the Catawba County Social Services we know today.  Programs put in place in the 1960s added many more.  Catawba County Government’s transition to a structure more closely resembling a business model; Welfare Reform; North Carolina’s reform of the mental health system; and other policies of the 1990s and 2000s redefined some services but did not reduce the need for them 


Margaret also focuses on the leaders of the agency, from the first “Welfare Director” in 1919 to John Eller today.  Along the way, she introduces readers to many of the people who served with, and were served by, Catawba County Social Services.


Help In Hard Times is a very interesting read, filled with photos.  It’s currently available at the main County Library at 115 West C Street in Newton for $20 per copy.  All proceeds from sales of the book will benefit a variety of funds helping Social Services clients, including Meals on Wheels and the Backpack Program, which provides supplemental food for school children who are facing food insecurity.  For more information, you may visit