AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsKathy Hefferon, 42, a single mom with three kids who receives no child support and has been on her own for five years, provides for her family on a $25,000-a-year job as a school aide. The Canyon Country resident has worked at Hart High School in Newhall for 20 years, but recently applied for a transfer because the increase in gas prices is choking her budget. “I love it at Hart, it’s going to be the hardest thing to do to leave Hart,” she said. “(But) financially, it will cut my gas bill in half.” The part-time job aiding children with emotional disabilities lands her home in time to greet her sons, 7 and 14, and daughter, 15, after school. She doesn’t know where her ex-husband is. “There was a point when I had to make a decision that instead of them coming home to an empty house it was more important to me to be home … than to make a little more money and for them be home alone till 5 or 6 in the evening,” she said. Some friends – carry-overs from the married years – applaud the decision. Others wince. SANTA CLARITA – Bristol Farms, a high-end market is due next spring on the heels of the Mercedes-Benz of Valencia dealership, and the average home costs more than $600,000. But advocates for the working poor say Santa Clarita has a growing hidden population that’s barely making it in a high-priced town with few well-paying jobs. “We have an invisible level of the community who work, who are generally single-parent heads of households or very-low wage earners who have had a stable life, not needing any kind of emergency services,” said Lupe Lopez, director of the local office of the Los Angeles County Department of Community and Senior Services. They were barely hanging on, then gasoline zoomed past the $3-a-gallon mark. “All of a sudden they find themselves not able to manage … and the (spike in) the cost-of-living that appears to be triggered by an increase in gasoline prices is really starting to hurt these families,” Lopez said. The family does not qualify for federal public assistance, but frugal budgeting helps them get by with a little help from local agencies. Hefferon’s kids participate in reduced-price school lunch programs, she stocks up on staples and dairy foods at a food pantry, and enrolled in a program that discounts electricity, gas, phone and trash bills. The mortgage on her three-bedroom condo – bought a decade ago when she was married – is $1,000-a-month. “I could not afford to buy my home today,” she said. “I probably could not afford to rent a three-bedroom apartment.” The median price of a single-family home in Santa Clarita in April was $643,000, and rent is upward of $900 for a one-bedroom apartment. Buoyed by some good fortune, the Hefferon family barely misses falling under the federal poverty line, which is about $20,000 for a family of four. “What we found in a recent study is because we typically measure poverty by federal guidelines we miss many families who are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in high-rent places,” said Deborah Reed, program director and population research fellow for the Public Policy Institute of California, a private nonprofit nonpartisan group. “The community may look at the poverty rate and say that is very low, there’s not much poverty here, but there is a larger share of families who have very little income after paying the rent.” This remainder for this family is about $13,000 a year. Hefferon volunteers at the Hunger Defense Fund’s food pantry Wednesday night and Saturday morning, preferring to give something for the food she gets in return. The nonprofit outlet in Canyon Country lets clients fill the food boxes; one box serves one or two people, two boxes serve three to four and three boxes are available for five or more. Thirteen hundred low-income families have registered for the service, which distributes about 2,000 pounds of food a week and does not follow the stringent federal guidelines. “We are able to help some families that don’t qualify elsewhere,” said Wendi Lancy, an administrative assistant for the group, which is funded by donations. Clothes are sold for a nominal fee. “The premise of the organization is to offer a hand up, not a handout. We try to provide a service and help them; we’re just asking them to give a little back.” The Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry distributes 1,000 pounds of food a day to people at or below 150 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that amounts to an annual household income of $28,275, for a family of six, $37,815. Reed, who authored a recently released study of poverty in California, commends agencies like these that rely on income criteria above the federal poverty line to determine eligibility. Food stamps were issued to 2,400 people in Santa Clarita in March, according to the county Department of Public Social Services. Some recipients leverage their earnings, living with friends or family members who cover the rent and other expenses. Hefferon said her family helps out, paying for school clothes, shoes, backpacks and sports programs, but eschews covering entertainment or other luxuries. Hefferon said her one indulgence is cable TV, a link from the past she was unwilling to sever for her children’s sake. Her children save money for extras by baby-sitting and doing yard work. She hopes financial aid will help steer them through college. Lopez says some are pawning possessions to pay for essentials, and a new stream of needy has arrived. “I’m seeing people who didn’t come before now coming and some people don’t come because they can’t,” she said. Many low-income families live on the edge of self-sufficiency, getting by without extra help, Reed said, but one small blip on the financial radar can tip the scale. “It could be gas prices, rent, it could be losing a job, a child getting sick and they need a prescription, a parent who gets sick who can’t work they go on unpaid leave,” she said. “Middle-income families have more of a cushion, they can take things out of their budget that are not so necessary, they can eat home instead of going out, they can not go on vacation this year.” Shortly after her husband walked out, Hefferon shuddered as she spooled on the last roll of toilet paper, wondering where the next roll would come from. Not long after, a paper bag stocked with groceries mysteriously appeared at the front door, and next to it, a 24-pack of toilet paper. The delivery was a spiritual balm. “I believe we have to do what we can to take care of ourselves, and as long as we’re doing everything we can do, God provides the rest,” she said. email@example.com (661) 257-5255160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!