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Mission House trusts in God to provide for needs Jessica Connor, Dec 15, 2011
PHOTO BY JESSICA CONNOR
Vickie Dove, treasurer for the Mission House in Fountain Inn, S.C., displays the ministry’s well-stocked refrigerator.
By Jessica Connor Special Contributor
FOUNTAIN INN, S.C.—This Christmas, families living in hardscrabble conditions in upstate South Carolina have food in their bellies, warm clothes on their backs and presents for their kids, thanks to churches that are reaching across denominational lines to help them. The James Monroe Mission House is an ecumenical nonprofit founded by and located next to Trinity UMC in Fountain Inn. But it’s not just United Methodists who spend their days stocking, sorting and distributing food, clothing, coats, blankets and other items to needy families.
“Most of the people who volunteer here don’t belong to the church—it’s a community thing,” said Clyde Brooks, Mission House board chair. While Trinity UMC set it up, “the community has just followed in behind it.”
With help from Harvest Hope Food Bank and donations from schools, individuals, local businesses and area foundations, the Mission House is able to serve close to 300 families each week. It is open Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and it offers holiday assistance, as well.
This Christmas, volunteers will hold their third annual Holiday Toy Fair. New or gently used toys will be given to families, two or three toys per child, on the Monday before Christmas, Dec. 19. Last year, the Mission House served 300 children through the toy fair. This year, they expect to serve more than 400.
“We had families camped at the door under blankets [in the past],” said Vickie Dove, board treasurer. “It was unbelievable.” After all, the need is great in this part of the state. Reliant on industry, many of the plants closed long ago, and the recession has worsened the situation.
“The people standing in our lines now have never stood in lines before,” Ms. Dove said.
Mr. Brooks agreed: “There are so many people who need help.”
For all the donations they receive, the demand is greater than supply.
“It truly is the fishes and loaves principle—that’s the only way we survive,” Ms. Dove said. “[The items] come out of nowhere, a miracle. We never think we’ll have enough to make it through the day.”
A worrier by nature, Ms. Dove said the weekly miracles she witnesses teach her to trust God, as He always provides.
“We have to trust God; He’s the one who makes this happen,” she said, saying the volunteers have learned to rely on blind faith supplemented by hard work. “He brings the food, servants to serve, resources.”
The Mission House is named for the late Dr. James Monroe, a local physician and a member of Trinity UMC.
Years ago, Monroe and his wife noticed paper carefully positioned inside the dumpster behind their office and realized someone was living there. They started putting out water and food, and though they never met the person living there, the experience lit a spark within them to feed the hungry in the Fountain Inn area.
When Monroe died, his wife donated $1,000 seed money that would start the James Monroe Mission House as an umbrella ministry of Trinity UMC. At first, the ministry delivered groceries to needy people in the area. Then, in 2001, they shifted gears, encouraging people to come to the church for the donated items. As the ministry—and the need for it—grew, they needed more space, became a separate organization and moved to the parsonage next door to the church.
The first day they opened their doors, 18 people came looking for help. Six and a half years later, the day this reporter visited, 295 families sought help from the Mission House.
Volunteer Nancy Wyatt said they have seen it all at some point, which only motivates them to help more: “Many just need a leg up, so we serve them briefly. Others, like the elderly, rely long-term. They have to make a choice—do I want to eat or have medicine?”
‘I’d be starving’
Those seeking help from the Mission House line up early. “I come a couple days a month to get food,” said Joan Parker, who has five people who live with her. Without the extra food help, she said, “It would be hard.”
Ken Zudonyi, who comes every two weeks, agreed: “I’d be starving.”
Steve, who didn’t want to give his last name, has been unemployed for more than a year and has four children at home, ages 2, 5, 7 and 8. Between their food and clothing needs, providing for them “would be virtually impossible on an unemployment check,” he said, noting his gratitude for the extra help he gets from the Mission House.
Nellie Bolden also said she is grateful for the extra help. She said she gets $16 in food stamps a month, plus a $666 Social Security check, which she said barely covers her household expenses. After paying heating and light bills and providing for her young grandchild, there is not enough left for food.
“It’s hard,” she said. “You take what you got, and you do the best you can. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need it.”
The volunteers come from local Presbyterian, Baptist and other churches throughout Fountain Inn and the surrounding community. From teenagers, schoolchildren and Scouts to a committed core of women in their 70s who painstakingly sort and organize the bags of donated clothing they receive, many find themselves simply unable to stop helping.
Nancy Yennie, a volunteer and board member, said helping the Mission House is a calling in her heart.
“Once you get into it, it’s like an addiction,” said Ms. Yennie, a member of Trinity UMC. “You get a camaraderie with the people who work here and come here for help. [When I’m not here] I miss it—I would way rather be here than at work.”
Randy Willis, a member of Fountain Inn First Baptist, said the ministry easily “hooked” him. “I came down for a visit just out of curiosity, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Mr. Brooks said helping at the Mission House makes volunteers feel good.
“It’s just a personal feeling you get, the warmth of people, their expression, that gives you a feeling of self-worth,” he said. “I’ve just been so blessed, and you have to pass it on.”
And they work hard. Volunteers are not just busy with the ministry when it is open on Mondays. They spend up to 10 or 12 hours a day two or three other days in the week collecting, organizing and stocking donations.
And some of the clients, when they get on their feet, become donors, too. Ms. Dove said there is a steady flow of receive, then give. “One man, whose family had a house fire, received furniture, sheets, clothing, etc., and one day he came back and gave us $100,” Ms. Dove said. “He said, ‘You did so much for us, and we want to give back to you.’”
Mr. Brooks said a ministry like the James Monroe Mission House is something every church can do.
“Every community has got an unseen need like this,” he said. “You make it available, and it’ll be utilized. . . . It’s amazing how much support you get from others when you set it up.”
Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.