By Jessica Connor
SPARTANBURG—When times are tough, when people don't know when they'll get their next meal or whether they can scrounge enough money to pay the extra heating bill this month, there is a place people know they can turn to for help.
It s a house of God —Silver Hill Memorial United Methodist Church, Spartanburg —and its members are doing all they can to represent Christ through ministry to people in need.
Silver Hill houses a nonprofit organization, Center of Hope, and together the church-nonprofit partnership is working to meet the needs of people in the lower-income neighborhood around them.
Silver Hill collects mission money each Sunday along with the regular church offering, and the funds support people who seek help with electric, gas, water and other bills.
People just take money from their own pockets and donate every Sunday, said Bernice Lewis, Silver Hill member who volunteers her time each Wednesday and Thursday to meticulously tally the available funds and allocate help to walk-ins first-come, first-served. If we weren t doing this, people would be without food, without power. A lot of times they come in crying, even the men, saying ˜I need help. And we give it to them.
Silver Hill also launched and donates space to Center of Hope, a 501(c)3 that twice a month feeds breakfast to the elderly, shut-in and needy, plus weekly gives away household extras not covered by food stamps, such as toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, dishes and diapers.
We are identified in the community as a place people can go to for help, said Dr. Eddie Williams, Silver Hill senior pastor. It s a very touching and fulfilling thing to come into the church in such dire economic times and see the gratitude on people s faces, to hear them say thank you, to see a person in a wheelchair get the help he needs, to have a young mother just hug you and cry. ...It s one thing to talk about open hearts, open minds and open doors, but to be able to showcase that is what this is all about. It moves us to remember what is the church.
Center of Hope
Heavy with child, a young woman enters the room, her eyes searching the toilet paper, cutlery and tissues stacked neatly on the tabletops and settling on a bundle of diapers.
Any size, she says, one hand absently caressing her pregnant belly, her eyes widening when she sees the large stack of diapers handed over.
Another woman, hair slicked neatly back in a no-nonsense ponytail, crouches before a big cardboard box filled with shoe racks, notebooks and other extras, all free for the taking. Other men and women mill about, filling out forms or gathering plastic sandwich bags, dryer sheets and toothpaste to take home to their families.
In a large room at the back of Silver Hill, Center of Hope operates a Gifts in Kind closet that provides non-food household items to people in need. People of all ages, races and genders are served. Willa Mackey, one of the volunteer organizers, said young unmarried mothers and the elderly are primary clients.
It s amazing how little Social Security money they receive and the few food stamps, and it s getting smaller and smaller, said Mackey, a retired educator who said helping the people served by the ministry is her calling.
Center of Hope also provides a large, hot breakfast on the first and third Saturdays of each month, feeding bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns, rolls and more to about 150 people both at the church and by volunteer delivery. Grants and individual donations support one of the breakfasts, and the other is fully underwritten by Grace Management Group, a local manufacturing company.
Brian Hennecy, who represents Grace and also personally volunteers with the breakfast with his two older daughters, called the ministry a beautiful display of Christ and said coming alongside to enable Center of Hope help its neighbors is a good fit for the Christian values of the company.
Christ was a servant leader; He had a heart of service and loved on people, and we re followers of Christ, Hennecy said, noting he, his family and Grace plan to help Center of Hope for years to come.
Casey Smith, one of the clients the day the Advocate visited, said the help she receives from Center of Hope means so much to her. She has been out of work for two months, and sometimes, getting help is difficult, but at Center of Hope, she feels welcomed and cared for.
They have real big hearts, Smith said.
Another client, a first-time visitor who wished to remain anonymous, said she considers the help she is getting from Center of Hope to be a true blessing in a time of tremendous need.
Mackey and fellow church member Laura Granville run Center of Hope with a handful of other core volunteers, and they and others pitch in to help with cooking, driving, paperwork, volunteer recruitment and more.
It makes me feel good to help, and it comes second nature ”if someone asks and I can do it, I will, Granville said. I m just blessed that I can.
Laura and I, this is what we do. We re retired, our grandkids are adults, and it s as much for us as it is for other people, Mackey said. It can be taxing, and sometimes there can be obstacles, and we re scrambling all the time to make ends meet. But God answers our prayers.
Somehow, there s always enough to purchase food for the breakfasts. Somehow, there s enough toilet paper, soap and toothpaste to give to people in need.
When I was growing up, I didn t have a lot, so this is giving back, Mackey said. It s nothing so big and grand. It s just doing what s right.
Keeping the power on
Many of the same people served at Center of Hope also make their way into the front office at Silver Hill for help with utility bills.
Community members come Wednesday mornings to request help, while Silver Hill members come Thursdays, and the church the mission money it collects on Sundays to support these requests. In 2013 from January to Aug. 31, the church had 314 come in seeking utility assistance ”264 of those needing help keeping the power on. Beyond the need for basic electricity for lighting and cooking, people also need power to heat their homes in the cruel inter months, or stay cool in the blazing heat of summer.
Often, Silver Hill pays a partial bill for people in need. Other times, in especially rough situations, it pays the entire bill. Lewis recalls the mother of three children who, even though she was only in her 30s, had experienced several strokes, couldn t work and couldn t pay her power bills.
We paid hers off in full, Lewis said, shaking her head.
Sometimes people aren t even looking for money. Lewis said people have come in with empty kerosene cans asking for a little fuel to get through the night. Recently, she got a phone call from someone just admitted to the hospital asking if Lewis could call all her family members and let them know where she was. Lewis said it feels good knowing her church is relied upon and has a reputation as being a source for help and hope.
I feel I owe Him something, and by doing this, I m giving it back to Him, she said. If all churches could just set aside some money like we do, we d all be wealthy.
There are people in our community to need help, and the powerful part is we know we re able to do the work of Christ in a time such as this, he said. Sometimes at the end of the day when you try to put the pieces together, ad you ask yourself did I witness?
In those moments, when you have someone hug you or look you in the eye and say thank you, that s when you see Christ.
To learn more about Silver Hill s mission outreach ministry or Center of Hope, call 864-587-2018 or visit www.silverhillmemorialumc.com.