By Cherri Gregg

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –Eileen Brown runs “Grands As Parents,” a nonprofit group based in North Philadelphia that supports grandparent caregivers.

GAP takes phone calls during times of crisis, serves meals, sells used clothing, and directs grandparents to social services that help ease the burden on these aging caregivers.

Brown (standing at far right in photo), who’s a grandmother and great-grandmother, offers an understanding ear and support.

“When we meet our clients, they come to us in crisis mode,” she says. “They don’t have time for red tape. They need food, they need Pampers, they need comfort.”

The organization holds weekly meetings and offers field trips for grandchildren to places such as “Taste of Philadelphia” during the summer.

And all the services and support are free.

“I raised six grandchildren and now I’m raising three great-grands,” says Brown. “Grandparents have to worry about their health (and) help these kids with school — some of them have issues like ADHD.  Education is key.”

Brown says more than 100,000 grandparents in Philadelphia are caregivers for grand or great-grandchildren. She says there are two types: young grandparents and older grandparents. She says both populations have a tough situation because they get little financial support raising the children.

“If you have four or five grandchildren and a balloon is $5 and a hot dog is $3 and you have a fixed income, it’s hard,” says Brown. “You want your grandkids to have what other kids have.”

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Over the past 18 years, GAP has worked to assist grandparents by holding fundraisers. The group touches about 300 families a year.

“People think that because the kids are your grandkids that have to take care of them,” says Jean Hackney, vice president of GAP (seated in photo), “but our income is barely enough to sustain us.”

Hackney says grandparents will step up to help grandchildren to keep them out of foster care, but housing can be a major issue for grandparents who live in senior housing.

She says getting food, clothing, and access to health and mental health services for grandchildren is also a concern, so GAP also lobbies lawmakers to pass laws that would get more state support for grandparents.

“We are an advocacy group,” says Hackney, “I wrote to (US Sen. Patrick) Toomey after that last food stamp cut — we are working to get bills passed to help get financial support for grandparents who need it.”

Neither Hackney nor Brown nor any other members of GAP’s small staff get paid.  Instead, they do it because they want to help.

“We are on the battlefield and we understand that it’s a battlefield,” says Hackney, “but I enjoy everything I do.”

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