The Community Crisis Ministries Fund is a ministry of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of South Portland, Maine. Its purpose is to help neighbors in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth who have nowhere else to turn. All requests for assistance come by referral through a social agency, individuals and professionals in the community such as school principals, guidance counselors, nurses, teachers, and social workers.
The Outreach Ministries Coordinator helps referred individuals explore all existing community resources. When they and their advocates have exhausted all these, the resources of the Fund are used to meet urgent and basic needs of people of all ages. There are no forms to fill out, no further criteria to meet and no religious requirements.
How Did Community Crisis Ministries Start?
It all started with a gift to give away. In November 1999, the Church was offered an anonymous one million dollar gift to be used to help the people of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. The only conditions were that the money had to be given away and couldn’t he given to existing charities.
In the UCC tradition of discussion and careful consideration, the 900 members of the congregation arrived at a common vision for the use of this challenging gift. It would he spent in three years and would serve their most vulnerable neighbors in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth: children, the elderly, and the poor and disadvantaged.
A Crisis Ministries Fund managed by the Crisis Ministries Committee was organized to oversee the distribution of $750,000 in direct assistance, with the remaining $250,000 dedicated to other related community services. A full-time Coordinator was hired to receive requests for financial assistance, to screen candidates, and to allocate funds.
In a society in which neighborhoods are not as cohesive as they once were, people often do not know where to turn.
What has Community Crisis Ministries Become?
This generous gift extraordinarily heightened church members’ awareness of the difficulties families face in two southern Maine communities that are demographically among the wealthiest in Maine. As a result, church members have responded generously when asked to contribute to continue the work of the Fund. During the past year 220 households have given $132,500 in addition to regular church pledges. In 2002, the Community Crisis Ministries Fund provided four times the total amount of support that the City of South Portland and the Town of Cape Elizabeth provided in general assistance, combined!
During the past four years the Fund has supported more than 430 local families with:
- Housing/home repairs
- Food/clothing/other necessities
- Car repairs
- Medical/dental/mental health
- Education, camp
The Church supports within its annual budget the operating costs of the Fund. Because of this, 100% of every gift provides direct assistance to those in greatest need.
While church members are asked on an annual basis to replenish the Fund, we must also look to the future. Church members can help to build an endowed fund by adding the Fund as a beneficiary in their wills. Unless otherwise stipulated these bequest gifts will be placed in an endowment that will provide permanent and stable funding for the Community Crisis Ministries Fund – a true legacy of care from one generation to another.
We’re daily reminded of the critical resource this Fund provides. In many cases it has literally reversed what appeared to be an inevitable outcome for a neighbor in need.
Delcia Hutchinson, Social Worker and former Outreach Ministries Coordinator:
“There is no safety net. It’s an illusion. No one wants to ask others to help support their families, but when help is needed, it should be available and adequate.”
A neighbor whose family was helped by the Fund:
“Thank you for what you have done for me and my children.
When I think about it, which is often, I think I must have dreamed it….
to be able to budget and have something left for extras,
like paper towels, to be able to go to sleep at night without worrying…
Please express my deepest gratitude.
I can’t adequately express how wonderful it feels
to have this weight off my shoulders.
I will pay this kindness forward
whenever and wherever I can to help some else.”
Looking for more information?
For more information on how you can give to the Community Crisis Ministries Fund or how the Fund is administered, please contact Kathy Sahrbeck, Outreach Ministries Coordinator, or by phone at 799-3361.