Economy affects outreach ministries, people served

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Economy affects outreach ministries, people served

Nov. 4, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0935}

NOTE: See related story, “Food sharing ministries fill gap for families,” at:

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Although Americans have seen some relief at the gas pump during the last several weeks, the economic news still isn’t good for United Methodist-affiliated outreach ministries and the people they serve throughout Florida.

Reports for September from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics show prices for many goods and services, like food and medical care, continued to rise. So far this year, prices for gas and electricity have increased 12.4 percent; the food index is 7.5 percent higher.

Volunteers prepare food at a hot-meal program in Delray Beach through C.R.O.S. Ministries’ Caring Kitchen ministry. Photo #08-1047. For longer description see photo gallery.

Those increases have created a two-fold effect: higher expenses coinciding with a greater need for services.

More help needed

The Rev. Pam Cahoon said the food needs of people in her community are the most serious she’s seen in her 30 years with Christians Reaching Out to Society (C.R.O.S. Ministries).

An outreach ministry of the conference, C.R.O.S. fills critical food distribution needs in the Palm Beach County area. Cahoon is the ministry’s director.
“We have just really been hit hard by this economy,” Cahoon said. “Our numbers are up 105 percent from a year and a half ago. We’re serving very middle class people (who) have lost jobs, have lost houses.”

After spending $57,000 on food for the ministry’s food pantry last year, Cahoon said she budgeted $100,000 for 2008 “thinking I was really over-budgeting.” By the end of June, she said, “we had already spent $75,000.”
The situation is much the same at United Methodist Cooperative Ministries/Suncoast Inc. Nancy Currens, the ministry’s director of public relations and communications, said both contributors and clients are feeling the effects of a slowed economy.

“Our ministry needs the continued support of personal contributors more than before since many of our contributors are on fixed budgets and have felt the pinch,” she said.

An outreach ministry of the conference’s Gulf Central District, United Methodist Cooperative Ministries assists clients, including immigrants and non-English speakers, with a variety of basic needs, including food and rent assistance. It collaborates with several local food pantries and offers after-school tutoring and preschool and homeless ministries.
“All of the people who receive our services (as well as our employees) are affected by the downturn in the economy,” Currens said. “Disposable incomes are not covering the higher costs of living for the essentials, namely food, clothing, housing, utilities, gas, medical, school supplies and the like.”

Staff members at South Florida Urban Ministries say all of the ministry’s programs have been affected by higher gas and food prices.

Headquartered in Miami-Dade County, the outreach ministry partners with churches and organizations “to create and expand ministries of compassion and justice in the communities of Southeast Florida.”

Volunteers with South Florida Urban Ministries prepare hot meals for distribution on Thanksgiving last year. “We anticipate the need will be even greater this year,” said Brent McLaughlin, executive director of the outreach ministry. Photo courtesy of South Florida Urban Ministries. Photo #08-1048.

Lars Gilberts, the ministry’s prosperity services coordinator, said it has become more difficult for clients to use the ministry’s food bank services. They either can’t afford the transportation to get to the food bank or feel “the insufficient value of the food is not enough of a benefit.” And referring clients to food pantries isn’t feasible in many cases because they have no way of getting to those other resources.

To compensate, staff members travel to clients more often, but that strategy presents its own challenges.

“If we need to serve them in person we cannot drive to every client, and they cannot always get to us for our classes,” Gilberts said. “It can be challenging for people to come week after week.”

A domino effect

Troy Ray, executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries in Volusia County, sees a multi-faceted challenge with the increased costs.
Along with more requests for food assistance, Ray said the ministry is helping more people pay their rent and utilities — all considered “primary services for homeless prevention.”

“All of these have been affected as a function of the impact of food and gas prices rising for people of already fragile financial means,” he said.

In the five years since his arrival at the ministry, Ray said the current demand for rent assistance is the most significant yet.
“We have spent almost $30,000 this year so far, which is more than we ever spent on rent assistance for any complete year,” Ray said. “Secondly, the demand for food assistance is as high as it was in 2004 when we had the hurricanes.”

Because the ministry purchases 400 tons of food each year, Ray said rising food prices have also had a direct effect on the ministry’s ability to provide food assistance.

Halifax Urban Ministries in Volusia County purchases 400 tons of food each year to help people meet their food needs. Rising food prices are having a direct effect on the ministry’s ability to provide that assistance. Photo courtesy of Halifax Urban Ministries. Photo #08-1049. Web photo only.
Although group giving is down, Ray said individual donors are holding steady in their giving or trying to increase it, helping meet the demand.

“Beyond that,” Ray said, “we have had to prioritize the services we fund, and that has been difficult emotionally. … The impact has been to sharply curtail the dollars we put toward emergency shelter.”

The ministry still provides more than 155,000 hot meals each year, as well as breakfast bags and coffee. It also offers showers and laundry services. There has been no real change in daily operations due to the higher transportation and gas costs, Ray said.

“We have a mobile unit that delivers food to about 600 families monthly in West Volusia, so we are paying much more for gas, but we don’t have plans to curtail that,” he said.  “As to those not receiving services, I feel like I have never said ‘no’ so much since I have been here. … We are getting to the point where we cannot provide some of the ‘smaller’ things. Bus tokens don’t seem like a big deal, but they are if you are homeless and trying to get to a doctor appointment or job interview.”

Filling the gap

Cahoon suggests that if all United Methodists respond a bit more, it could make a big difference in supporting C.R.O.S. Ministries.
“We’ve been asking the local churches to do more food drives, (but for) the conference as a whole, just be aware in their own communities of the magnitude of the need,” she said.

Currens said Florida Conference United Methodists can help by spreading the word about United Methodist Cooperative Ministries’ services and increasing their giving to it and ministries like it.
“If we do not take care of our ‘own’ works, who will?” she said.

Gilberts hopes United Methodists will do both — continue giving financially and sharing information. He also hopes they will volunteer.

“Churches that can ‘adopt’ families would be great, as many or few as desired … then they could provide the physical and emotional help people need,” Gilberts said.

Outreach ministry staff say volunteers like this one preparing meals at a hot-meal program in Delray Beach through C.R.O.S. Ministries’ Caring Kitchen ministry are the lifeblood of their organizations. With the rise in food and gas prices, Florida Conference outreach ministries need both volunteer and financial support more than ever. Photo courtesy of C.R.O.S. Ministries. Photo #08-1050.

In addition to food donations and financial support, Ray said one of Halifax Urban Ministry’s greatest needs is people willing to volunteer, especially those with technical and professional skills.

“We could never deliver the services that we (do) without fresh volunteers conveying the love and grace of God. It isn’t passé,” Ray said. “Volunteers are the blood in our veins, more than funds are.”

Churches can also “act in their own communities when there is an unmet need that they can help meet,” said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office. One example, she said, would be a church providing a summer meal program for children who normally eat free or reduced price lunches during the school year.

Beyond the local church, Fogle-Miller said the conference provides ongoing financial and informational support to conference outreach ministries, as well as assisting with staffing needs.

This summer, the conference implemented a pilot program placing four mission interns at work in the conference’s camps and at various outreach ministries. The conference also participates as an active member in the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, an effort to connect a wide range of groups committed to the wellbeing of children and end childhood hunger in Florida by 2018.

Continued encouragement for the outreach ministries is also needed, Fogle-Miller said.
“As I look at what these groups are doing, the range of their ministries is truly inspiring,” she said. “They are meeting the specific needs in their specific communities. They are feeding hearts and minds, as well as bodies, too.”

More information about conference outreach ministries is available at Information about the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger is available at

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker addresses the current economic crisis in a posting titled “Faith, Fears and Finances” on his newly formed blog at


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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