Friday, May 5, 2017

This was a near-miss

A few years ago, our staff became aware that a bee colony had made its home near the roofline of our administrative office. It seemed like a small hive, but as we spoke to experts, it became clear we needed to hire a real beekeeper to remove this small hive. The beekeeper we hired actually filmed the removal, and members of our staff were entertained (and horrified) by what we saw on video.

It was not a small hive: 100 pounds of honey were extracted, and we were told the hive had been there for years. And that we were incredibly, incredibly lucky that no one was hurt as this was an active African bee colony. So as we're watching this video, the main beekeeper says this, "I'm not a religious person, but someone has been watching out for these people".

God's providence. There are probably different opinions on how God's providence works. As for me, I don't have to understand it to trust that it's there, and God will provide what I need for any situation.

Here's something else I believe: people can become instruments of God's providence, and in watching the video (I did smile at the beekeeper's comment), I naturally thought that CCSC has been God's providence for thousands of people through the years. We are God's providence when we hear a family's distressing situation and help formulate solutions, when we help an elderly person stretch their social security for that month, when we give an at-risk child needed prescription eyeglasses, when we empower an unemployed person with new skills, and when we communicate authentic caring and love.

So while we can wonder how exactly God's providence works, we can also become God's providence to another by simply reaching out and helping.

Note: this was originally published in CCSC's newsletter and posted here by request.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A mild Easter debacle

Our microwave oven died Easter morning, just as I was heating up the sausages for brunch. We were feeding 10 people, and luckily it was family. Everything else was cooked, so we had a good meal with lukewarm sausages.

We've ordered a new microwave, but are living without one until the new oven arrives, and it feels like I'm roughing it by cooking dinner using the stove and wall oven. I almost feel sorry for myself. But we have food. And electricity. And a new microwave coming. My grandmothers would be aghast at my pity party.

It's just past the middle of the month which means working families living at or near poverty levels are scraping by and facing upcoming bills. Rent will be due in two weeks, the utility bill is coming, and food is a daily necessity. And if there is an expected expense (sick child, flat tire, school field trip, etc...), then these families are in crisis quickly.

The two food pantries of the Christian Community Service Center are there for these families. If the flat tire needs repair, and you have to use your food money to fix the car, then we can replenish your pantry. Or if your child needs medication, and you cannot afford it, we have a referral system with a local pharmacy. In fact, we have lots of referrals and agencies we work with to connect clients to resources beyond our own programs.

Unfortunately we are needed, but gratefully we serve. Call us if you would like a tour or would like to learn more about our work.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A young family needed us

A young couple in their early twenties came in with an 18-month-old baby. The father worked while the mother stayed home, and all was well until the father was in a car accident that crushed his leg. While receiving medical care, he lost many weeks of work; his employer held his job for him, but the time off was unpaid.

When he walked into CCSC, he needed help in paying his electric bill. As he signed in, he said very quietly - without making eye contact - that he had never been in this situation before. The volunteer responded, saying she was glad he had come to us. Her graciousness relaxed him.

Another volunteer listened to their story and coordinated payment of the bill. This young father was overcome by the kindness he experienced more than the financial help we provided. With deep emotion, he said he hoped to one day help our ministry.

I share this story to illustrate not only the clients we help, but also the compassion our volunteers impart. Mr. Rogers said, "There is a space between the needy and the person who is asked to help. That space is holy." In all work areas, the CCSC volunteers enter into that holy space and do God's work.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The face of hunger mirrored mine

For dinner, my 15-year old son ate three large hamburgers, a pear, and a serving of grilled potatoes. He finished it off with an ice cream cone, and then an hour later he was foraging in the food pantry. He's all arms and legs and appetite. Our food bill is creeping up.

A CCSC client's teen son also has an insatiable appetite, but she has a limited income and is a single mother. She came to us during her lunch break because she simply needs more food for her son's growth spurt. I was humbled to hear her story.

There are many faces of hunger: the elderly, working families, and teenage boys. Last year, CCSC gave over 30,000 food packages to the hungry. Last week, we fed over 200 families. Today was busy. Tomorrow will be also. Thanks to all who support our work by volunteering time, conducting food drives, and sending in financial gifts. All are needed, appreciated, and put to work.

Monday, January 9, 2017

We're here to help

One of CCSC's goals this past year was to help more people find work and increase their income, and we have positive results to share.

In the JobNet program, we helped 43% more clients than in the prior year. And we expanded services by adding a "coach", someone to work with people to achieve goals that would help stabilize their lives. Some of those goals include finding more affordable housing, reducing expenses, become banked, earning a GED, etc... Over 200 clients opted for this service, with nearly 50% achieving either short- or long-term goals.

Some of the jobs found include accounting assistant, truck driver, payroll coordinator, as well as jobs in medical records, healthcare delivery, and administrative positions in the energy sector.

Notably, we had a 355% increase in the number of clients receiving computer tutoring, therefore becoming fluent in office technology.

In the Martha's Way program (vocational training), we had a 16% increase in the number of graduates, which means the Houston-area now has 242 new entrepreneurs launching their small business. This training program helped increase household wages for these families, with the latest survey showing the average graduate earning about $24/hour. This helps the nearly 500 children living in those homes to have food, a roof over their head, and other basic needs met.

At CCSC we pay attention to metrics, but we also care about the individual people behind the numbers. So I'm grateful for one of the JobNet clients who stopped me in the hallway to tell me how much we've changed her life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This is a happy picture

This is Russell, a longtime volunteer at the Sunshine Resale Shop. I share this picture to illustrate the generosity of CCSC volunteers throughout the ministry. Russell always has a smile on his face, and welcomes customers into the shop with hospitality.

Each day, the shop and two food pantries open with the volunteers gathering for prayer before beginning the day. They pray for our clients, our churches and our community. They share their own individual concerns. No matter the weather, issues of the day, or concerns of the world, these groups begin their work together with a prayer.

These volunteers are not one-dimensional. I imagine there to be contrasts between each in their theological and political approaches to the world. But these differences are irrelevant when we gather at CCSC. Do you and I have to agree on everything before we can work together to alleviate hunger? I hope not.

This is a small, but important aspect of CCSC. Our small ministry witnesses to the strength of working together across lines (despite lines, maybe), rather than using lines to separate us. The words of Jesus are powerful and call for much work to be done to build up the Kingdom of God. There's room for differences of opinion... and then room for us to pray together and work together.

Please join our team. We need more volunteers. As he's gotten older, Russell is not able to come to the shop as often. If you're willing to serve, I think he would share that chair he's sitting in.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Some November lessons

This past month, I was in three different CCSC churches: a Baptist, an Episcopal, and a Methodist church. I heard three fabulous sermons, visited with lots of good people, and left refreshed. Below are some of the messages I walked away with:

Hold a baby - If you're feeling despondent, confused or helpless, holding a baby will center you and bring you close to God. Babies need love and food. Love and food. Maybe all the stuff we worry about is extraneous to what really matters.

Say thank you - Say thank you to God for the goodness in your life, especially if things aren't going well. When life is chaotic and upside down, the best way to find your center of gravity is to start naming what is going right. Even if it's just one small thing. 

Share yourself - Share your strength, share your faith, share your time, share whatever is good and right in your life with others. This message was not preached. It is what I observe every time I visit this particular church. They are a generous congregation that oozes love and hospitality.

What did you learn in November? Are you interested in deepening your spiritual life? Visit some churches and take them on a test drive, if you don't currently attend a church. If you're a regular church-goer, add in a new spiritual discipline to keep yourself from becoming stale. The new year is almost upon us - make a resolution that could possibly enrich your soul.