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Trying to fill a growing need for help

POSTED: April 12, 2009 12:41 a.m.

While the federal government is busy trying to stimulate the economy, many local organizations are busy trying to keep those in need afloat until things get better.

When times get tough, many people turn to the church for more than spiritual support — they are also looking for monetary assistance and food to put on their tables.

At the food pantry offered by Living Word, a church in Jefferson, not only are the numbers changing for people seeking sustenance, so are their demographics.

“We are seeing more people coming in looking for food,” said Jerry Hanley, who helps run the food ministry.

“We’ve also noticed a change in the type of people who are coming in. We’re seeing more people who normally don’t need this type of assistance — people like teachers and such — times are hard for a lot of people.”

Even though the Living Word food pantry is only open every other Tuesday, the center still manages to reach hundreds of people each month. According to church staff, in February, 265 individuals received food. In March, that number jumped to 665.

With that many mouths to feed, helping those in need is quite an endeavor, but Hanley said they will continue helping the less fortunate as long as they have the resources.

“We have one individual who gives us several thousand dollars each year to help out with costs,” he said.

“We’re also very blessed because we’re able to buy food from the Northeast Georgia Food Bank for 18 cents per pound. That really keeps costs down for us and free for those people who come to us for food.”

McEver Road United Methodist Church officials also know what it is like to stretch the church’s resources to offer help. Among other things, the church has an outreach program where they provide financial assistance to those in need.

“The church’s administrative council created the Benevolence Ministry Committee to address requests for financial assistance that were being received by the church. The Benevolence Committee is comprised of at least five members and at least two board members have to agree on whether the church can provide assistance and how much assistance can be provided,” said Cindy McCubbins, a committee member.

According to McCubbins, financial assistance requests are twice what they were at this same point last year.

As the demands for financial assistance continue to grow, the church must walk a fine line between helping others while not putting the church in financial jeopardy.

“In 2008, we received 34 requests for assistance, but we were only able to assist 27. We are a small church with a limited budget, though we have a big heart,” McCubbins said.

“If we cannot pay a full bill, we try to provide partial assistance. We try to respond to the needs of our church family first and foremost; second to the community.”

When requests for assistance are outside of the church’s means, McCubbins said Benevolence Committee members often refer those in need to other agencies.

One such organization that receives referrals from area churches is the Gainesville Action Ministry.

“Our target is the elderly and families with children. We work in covenant with 17 local churches. That’s how we get all of our clients, through church referrals,” said Terri Armour, Action Ministry’s administrative assistant.

Gainesville Action Ministry provides utility and rent assistance to those in need. Although the ministry is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it still helps its fair share of needy clients. So far this year, the ministry has already provided financial assistance to 48 families, or 154 individuals.

“We are not a charity or a church, we’re a ministry who offers help and hope for the hurting,” said Armour. “We assist in trying to prevent homelessness and disconnection for the working poor. The number of clients we see each day varies, but we try to do what we can for as many of them as possible.”



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