COLUMBIA — With food and fuel prices creeping ever higher, some Columbia families are facing tough choices and possible financial cutbacks. The economic downturn is having an even more profound impact on the nation’s working poor, who often live from paycheck to paycheck.
As social work organizations and charities strive to offer help to people in difficult financial and emotional situations, there are still individuals who remain untouched or fall into a gap.
A new faith-based organization in Columbia wants to reduce the number of people who seek help but don’t qualify for it through traditional standards at social service agencies. The group wants to fill gaps by pooling community resources and services to have a greater impact and help more people in need.
Love INC, or Love In the Name of Christ, opened its doors May 1 in Columbia and offered help to more than 80 people in its first month. The group is funded through donations from individuals and churches but plans to seek assistance through the federal faith-based initiatives program.
Jane Williams and Pat McMurray, founding board members for Love INC, told a story about one client who needed help but couldn’t find it through traditional avenues. An Iowa man was passing through Columbia after attending his son’s funeral in Arkansas. Relatives dropped him off in Missouri but refused to take him all the way back to Iowa. The man was desperate to return because of an opportunity that awaited: a permanent job instead of one with the temporary agency he’d been working for in the past seven months. But the man didn’t have the $91 needed for a one-way bus ticket. Without the ticket, he’d have no job waiting.
With the donations and help of Love INC’s members and church affiliates, the organization was able to get the man a ticket home.
It’s the simplicity behind Love INC’s philosophy that drew Jane Williams to the organization nearly six years ago. Williams knew she wanted to do more to help those in need in Columbia, but she wasn’t quite sure how. Already involved as an after-school volunteer for children in public housing, a volunteer for a women’s ministry and jail ministry program, Williams knew how helping others affects a community. And even with her busy schedule, she couldn’t help but feel that there were other ways she could offer her help.
A friend who had previously worked as a church secretary, Jeanette Megown, had learned of a Christian-based social work organization from her son, a pastor in Alaska. Megown’s son told her about Love INC and the success it was having in Alaska by offering long-term solutions to people in need. Recognizing Williams’ desire to help, and knowing firsthand the amount of benevolence calls churches field, Megown suggested Williams find out more about Love INC.
Williams visited a Love INC office in Liberty in 2001. It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina hit four years later that Williams was able to see the opportunities for Love INC’s ministries in Columbia.
As Katrina evacuees resettled in Missouri, and Williams began seeing their vast needs, she said she began to understand the essence of Love INC. “What really makes a difference in someone’s life is another person,” she said, and Love INC is a prime example of that. “The number of evacuees that fled to Columbia (after Katrina) was unbelievable,” Williams said. “There were so few people to provide help. I saw that these people needed someone to connect with, a friend.” Recognizing the needs of the evacuees, Williams knew that Love INC could be very influential in Columbia. She drafted a developmental team that included McMurry, who serves as president, Linda Dyer and Teresa Parker.
McMurry credits Williams’motivation for introducing Columbia to LoveINC. “If I could go back to a point where this all began, it would have to be Jane,” he said, “The unity of the church was our primary motivator, cooperation among churches that eclipsed anything we had ever seen before.”
More than 30 Columbia churches and faith communities are affiliated with Love INC, which began seeing clients immediately after opening an office in the Kelly Plaza on North Providence Road.
From May 1 to June 6, Love INC has conducted 80 30-minute interviews with clients, many of whom requested monetary assistance. But Love INC doesn’t provide money because of limited resources and funding. Instead, volunteer staff attempt to find some way to help everyone who calls. The staff will be taking appointments for interviews but likely will limit the number based on volunteer availability. Eventually, the organization hopes to have set hours and a clearinghouse for referrals.
When a client first arrives for help at Love INC, there is a 30- to 40-minute interview with a staff member. Trained volunteers, who are recruited from churches, often after a Love INC presentation, then ask questions that help get to the root of the problem. The goal isn’t to hand out money for temporary relief, Williams said, but rather to determine if people have exhausted all other resources. Questions that arise include: Has the person made attempts to help him- or herself? Is there a need for budgeting lessons? Is a higher-paying job the primary need?
After the evaluation, Love INC staff decide what to do to help prevent the shortcomings in the future and determine what the individual can do on his or her own to improve the situation.
While each Love INC branch independently decides the criteria for which it will provide help, the organization practices GAP Ministries as a basic strategy for providing help to those in need. GAP ministries are areas that are generally overlooked by traditional relief and social service agencies when people are seeking help. For example, if someone received furniture from a furniture bank, there is often a gap because the person has no means of transporting it home or storing it. In the Columbia Love INC branch, there are four areas of focus: auto repair, access to recovery for recovering addicts, furniture banks (transportation/storage) and budget counseling. Love INC offers budget counseling classes once a month during the day, but is attempting to switch to a night class so more people could attend. Each person who attends the budget class will receive four mentoring sessions. Clients receiving auto repair assistance will be required to take the budgeting classes to ensure their ability to keep up with their automobile payments.
For more information, to learn how to volunteer or to support the Love INC in Columbia, go to columbialoveinc.org.