PLANT CITY — Handing out a few bags of groceries to a family each week will not get them to a better place. Helping parents find jobs, fight addictions and stretch their budgets can turn bad situations around, said Dan Morris, director of missions for the Shiloh Baptist Association.
As more and more people walked up to the doors of small churches with limited incomes during the economic downturn, ministers from several of the association’s 41 churches began to brainstorm — and pray — for a solution.
The answer came in the form of the Plant City Community Ministries, a consortium of Eastern Hillsborough County churches that have pooled a portion of their benevolence funds to help those who come knocking.
With a dedicated building at the southwest corner of State Road 39 and Johnson Road and volunteers at the ready, the ministry, which started less than a year ago, has already touched the lives of some 390 families.
H. Crystal Copeland, who serves as administrative coordinator for the new ministry, said the center is able to help people write resumes, sign up for food stamps, find a non-profit to help with rent or an electric bill and other needs.
The program is based on the same model as the one Cheryl English used to create the Women’s Resource Center of Tampa, located in Brandon. English is serving as the new ministry’s director and using her model to get the Plant City ministry up and running, with a few additions.
A new cooking class, for instance, helps clients learn how to stretch their budgets. Volunteer Irene Wright is teaching the 12-week course, which she says covers everything from crock pot meals to nutrition, how to find local foods and how to cut and use coupons.
“Cheryl’s expertise has been the key to our success,” said Fred Wright, pastor at Cedar Grove Baptist Church off Keysville Road and one of those who was in on developing the new ministry. “Her model has been the key to our success.”
English, with her volunteers, has helped hundreds of women since 2003 to get back on their feet and gain some stability in their lives through the Women’s Resource Center, located at Bay Life Church on Kingsway Road in Brandon.
“We use the same basic approach here,” English said. “To walk alongside people and provide them with resources to get back on their feet.”
“We don’t just address their immediate needs,” Irene Wright said. “We look at why they are in their particular situation and how we can assist them to turn that bad situation around.”
The volunteers and staff represent the hands and feet of Jesus, they say. They’re not just preaching Christianity, they’re living it and offering it to their clients.
Already, they’ve had success stories, such as a woman who came in jobless and unable to pay her rent. She has since gone to school to get her certification as a nursing assistant and been baptized as a Christian.
“We have clients fill out income sheets, help them with a job, gas cards and emergency food if they need it,” Copeland said. “We monitor Tampa Bay Workforce for available jobs. We even have clothes we can give them for job interviews or for work.”
“It takes a while for people to get back on their feet, but we monitor them along the way,” Irene Wright said. It is a way to ensure they’re not milking the system, by jumping from one church to the next to collect food and money, she said.
“When people just come to the church for immediate help, all we can do is put a band-aid on the problem,” Fred Wright said. “Southern Baptists are known for working together. By combining our resources, we’re being more effective. We are taking people from where they are to where they should be.”
Now there are churches joining the ministry that are not members of the Shiloh Baptist Association, Morris said.
“We are looking at this being an evangelical church ministry,” he said. “And we’ll keep our focus on transforming people so they can stand on their own.”
To learn more, call (813) 468-0133.