The holiday season draws a needed boost in support for Jefferson County Community Ministries. The ministry, a cooperative of local churches now reaching more than 50, assists people in need by helping provide food, clothing, rental and utility assistance and other short-term emergency needs of county residents.
According to Bob Shefner, executive director, the Ministries will offer assistance to more than 16,000 clients in 2013. That number has risen from the 14,000 helped in 2012. Shefner shard that the unofficial motto for the organization is "Neighbor helping neighbor."
With that said, he went on to say that there is not an unlimited pool of resources to draw from. He said that when he came on board in 2011, the organization was on track to spend more than their budget by nearly $50,000.
"We had to do something," he said. "We couldn't just count on possible donations coming in." He went on to say that to sustain the giving, the Ministries reduced some big giving items by 20 percent. Those included assistance for rent, bulk fuel and utility payments.
To assist those needing help with such items, Shefner said the focus has turned more on how to help people help themselves. He said that the organization has adopted some policies used by the local Department of Health and Human Resources, with which they closely work. Included in those policies is a checklist of things recipients of goods need to do to help themselves.
"If they don't do the things on the list and come back for more assistance, they are denied," Shefner said. "This helps people begin to take self-responsibility," he said.
To go along with that, the Ministries now offers cooking classes, a jobs listing bulletin board in the local office, counseling services, money management classes and public computer access for those seeking employment.
"We are looking to see how many ways we can help people be more self-sufficient," Shefner explained.
The Community Ministries, which has offices located on Washington Street in Charles Town, serves only Jefferson County residents. It is primarily staffed by volunteers. Shefner said that he is a half-time paid employee and there are small stipends paid for the Food Pantry coordinator and the finance staffer.
"Volunteer hours here eaqual 12 full time staff people," Shefner said. "They handle everything from intake interviews for need, the clothing closet, food pantry and more. The volunteers help sort clothing that is donated and display it in the Clothing Closet where individuals can come in and select items. Food Pantry volunteers fill orders for those in need of non-perishable goods which include not only food but laundry detergent, toothpaste and much more.
The Food Pantry, through the end of August, served 6,950 individuals. Many more will be served before year's end. Food has been coming in at a steady pace, as is usual at the holiday season. Over six tons of food was brought in thanks to the efforts of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races within the past week, Shefner said. The Boy Scouts in the county, who hold a yearly drive, delivered 8,800 pounds of food. Another donation included 1,800 pounds of turkeys offered by the Locust Hill Turkey Shoot Golf Tournament participants.
"This is the season everyone brings food," Shefner said. "The problem is that while much of this food will last hopefully until March, we then have to spend to restock the Pantry." Shefner has the goal of reminding the community that generosity can be and should be a year-round thing and not just seasonal.
Doug Childs, who serves as development officer for the Ministries via a grant award, said that the organization influences so many people, young and old.
"It is usually people's last resort to come to us," Childs said. "But the need can be had by anyone at any time" He said that one never knows when a change in circumstance will require assistance. He hopes that people who are able will take the opportunity to give.
"Too much plus too little equals just enough," he said of the community partnership.