Christian Assistance Bridge a 'stop gap' for the working poor

By Jessica Connor

BLYTHEWOOD—Next month, United Methodists north of Columbia will open doors on a newly repackaged ministry designed to help the working poor get back on their feet.

Christian Assistance Bridge is a new service agency on the campus of Trinity United Methodist Church, Blythewood, that is the metamorphosis of two longtime programs operated through the church: a satellite office of The Cooperative Ministry, which provided emergency assistance through vouchers for rent, utilities, medicine, gas and more, and the TAB fund (Trinity Assistance Bridge), which provided that assistance for transients or those who didn t quality for Cooperative Ministry help.

Christian Assistance Bridge organizers felt consolidating both programs into one new nonprofit entity would be a streamlined and more effective way to use their energies to help people who need assistance the most. Nudged by the Lord last summer after a wildly successful Blythewood Salkehatchie mission, a steering committee formed to discern and ultimately flesh out the new nonprofit, and in February, The Cooperative Ministry board voted to discontinue its partnership with Trinity and close its satellite office.

The newly organized Christian Assistance Bridge will open in early November in the same building that had housed the satellite office: a cozy brick house adjacent to the church that has seen a stream of people all day long two days a week for the last 10 years. Christian Assistance Bridge is an ecumenical organization. Trinity-led, most of the initial board comprises members of Trinity, but other Christian churches are involved, as well.

It is designed to be a ˜stop gap for people who may be one step away from homelessness, said the Rev. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg, Trinity pastor.

While the area is known as a high-growth suburb of Columbia, Blythewood has its share of people who desperately need help. So many people are living paycheck to paycheck, and when a catastrophe happens, there is often no Plan B “ no savings account, no reserve fund, no safety net.

There s a new working poor out there “ people who used to have jobs and boats and houses, and they lost those jobs and those homes, Jamieson-Ogg said. Here we are in a wealthy suburban area, and people are homeless, living in cars, and their kids go to Blythewood High with the kids from the country club.

When Christian Assistance Bridge opens in November, it will mimic the same schedule of the Cooperative Ministry satellite: Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Clients are welcome first-come, first-served, with no appointment, and the ministry serves people in Bythewood (zip codes 29016, 29229 and 29130). About 20 trained volunteers from Trinity and other churches screen clients, go over budgeting and expenses and do what they can to help people in need.

Clients have to be in a state of crisis to get financial help from Christian Assistance Bridge; they must have received an eviction or utility cut-off notice. They can get emergency funds from Christian Assistance Bridge just once a year.

We don t want to create a dependency, Jamieson-Ogg said, though they can get food every 60 days and often are referred to other agencies, such as the Department of Social Services, for further help.

Budgeting and financial counseling are some of the more significant ways volunteers help clients.

It s not just, ˜Here s my electric bill; please pay for it. It s, ˜Let s see why you re short, Jamieson-Ogg said.

Volunteers also offer spiritual and emotional counseling, often suggesting a client go talk to Jamieson-Ogg or another pastor. As she said, many times, clients need far more than a tank of gas; they need a church home and a counseling center.

And some of them even wind up in the pew.

We re not just there to offer groceries; we want to give the love of God, Jamieson-Ogg said.

The day the Advocate visited, the assistance building was closed, but a woman saw the doors open and pulled up in her car seeking help. Volunteers said that is not uncommon. As soon as the doors open, there will be people lining up outside.

Hans Vradenburg, coordinator of Christian Assistance Bridge, said God calls us to help the lesser people among us, and as she is older and not working anymore, it is time for her to give back to the community by working with this ministry.

A lot of good things happen in that little brick house, Vradenburg said, noting that getting the chance to counsel people and help them better themselves is a blessing for her. There s so much need out there, and it makes me feel like a million dollars when I close the doors at the end of the day; they help me and I help them.

Vradenburg has volunteered for the ministry in various ways since the beginning, and time and again she has seen the hand of God in dire situations: abuse, illness, disability, unemployment and worse. She remembers one woman with two children who sought help just before Christmas last year, and the ministry had just run out of funds. They had to turn her away, and their hearts were heavy with disappointment. A few minutes later, a man came through the doors a
nd offered a sizeable donation, and suddenly, they could help the woman after all.

It was God s hand, Vradenburg said, her voice husky with unshed tears. We called her right back and gave her $250, and then we had Christmas. That is something I will never forget. It really touches your heart.

Carol Ward, Trinity missions chair who also serves on the steering committee and board for Christian Assistance Bridge, said the need is abundant in Blythewood.

People think it s a medium- to upper-middle class area, but when you get out in the community and drive around a little bit, is very evident there are people in need, especially in the rural areas, Ward said.

Ward said she, like many of the others who mission to the poor and working poor, feel a divine calling to be compassionate for people in need, who often require help to support their families and themselves. Giving a hand up to them through Christian Assistance Bridge is obedience to God s directive to love our neighbors.

Obviously that s our calling as Christians to help people who are less fortunate than we are, Ward said. A verse in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 kind of spoke to me: ˜May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. It just speaks to our mission as Christians to care for each other and try to take care of people s needs.

Trinity will receive some surplus funds available to hunger ministries in districts after the conference s successful Stop Hunger Now at Annual Conference in June. Beyond that, they are seeking grants and donations to be self-sustainable. As Vradenburg said, It all depends on the money. If we don t have the money, we can t do anything to help them.

For more about Christian Assistance Bridge, or to volunteer or donate, call 803-786-1903, or visit .

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