United Christian Ministries helps others in time of need

By Nicole Daughhetee

Staff Reporter

COUNTY — With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, many people are thinking about celebrations, family feasts, shopping, gift giving, traveling or snuggling with loved ones by a cozy fire. According to the most recent US Census data, 16.5 percent of the people in Pickens County are currently living below the poverty level, and, realistically, this figure is even higher when you consider the number of people who might not have participated in the census survey.

During the economic crisis that has and continues to plague our country, there are many people, families and children who will not be planning holiday celebrations because they are focused on ensuring that their most basic of needs — shelter, food, clothing and warmth throughout the winter months —  are met.

Fortunately for many, there are organizations in Pickens County that were established and designed to help those in need. United Christian Ministries, located at 303 Dacusville Highway, in Easley, is one such organization working diligently to help struggling people in Pickens County.

Founded in 1989, United Christian Ministries (UCM) was developed as an extension of the local churches to serve people in need. UCM is an emergency assistance program that works in cooperation with Clemson Community Care, located in Clemson, and receives support from churches, the United Way of Pickens County, various different businesses and organizations, and generous individuals who support their ministry.

In times of crisis, many individuals and families look to churches for assistance because churches function to minister to others. UCM was created so that those in need would have a central location to visit for assistance instead of going from church to church. UCM has a dedicated team of volunteers who are able to focus their time specifically on this ministry, where before this duty often fell on the shoulders of church secretaries who already have full-time responsibilities to church operations.

Teresa Nash, Executive Director of United Christian Ministries, explained that UCM partnered with the Samaritan Health Clinic (a clinic that provides health care and prescription assistance to the uninsured in Pickens County), under the umbrella of the Good Samaritan Alliance, and the marriage of locations and ministries has been beneficial to the people of Pickens County. As partner agencies, they are able to refer people to one another and work to meet as many emergency needs as possible.

“If an individual has needs beyond the scope of services we offer, we refer them to the appropriate agency. We have a great working relationship with the United Way of Pickens County as well as their partner agencies. There is a real spirit of cooperation between agencies which makes it easier to meet the needs of the people we serve,” said Nash.

Emergency food assistance is the primary service offered at UCM. In addition to addressing hunger issues, UCM also helps people with utilities, clothing, rent and specific types of life sustaining medications. Food assistance is, and has always been paramount to UCM’s ministry, because if a person does not have to worry about whether or not she is going to be able to feed herself or her family, or if she does not have to put what money she does have toward food, her resources can be used elsewhere — perhaps for rent, electricity or heat.

Many of the people UCM serves live on fixed incomes, are unemployed, or live below the poverty level. In addition to emergency food and financial assistance, Nash says that she and her staff try to offer financial counseling and money management. In order for an individual to qualify for help at UCM, he must show proof of all home income, social security cards, picture identification and proof on need in the form of a past due bill or eviction notice.

“We don’t want people to feel like we are prying into their personal business, but at the same time, UCM has a responsibility to be good stewards of the funding we use to operate. We have a responsibility to make sure that the people who need help are receiving help,” said Nash.

There is no doubt that UCM is ministering to those in need. Fiscal reports from FY 2009-2010 show that UCM made food donations in excess of 125,000 pounds and offered direct financial assistance in the amount of over $140,000. While the screening process for those seeking assistance is essential, Nash says her staff would prefer to “err on the side of compassion rather than judgment.”

Financial hardships have hit everyone, and UCM is no exception. In their latest newsletter, UCM reports that financial contributions in 2010 are running $40,000 behind where they were at this time last year. As a non-profit agency, United Christian Ministries depends on the generosity of others to minister to those people in need.

Even in these bleak economic times, Nash remains hopeful and thankful. “As a person of faith, I am not ‘Chicken Little’ and the sky is not falling!” she says. “I am praising God for all He has provided for UCM and giving thanks to Him that we have in no way reduced our services to people in need.”

United Christian Ministries is always in need of non-perishable food items, paper products (like toilet paper, diapers, wipes), clothing, blankets, and, of course, any financial donations are welcomed. Anyone interested in making a contribution to this ministry can do so by contacting Teresa Nash at United Christian Ministries, PO Box 1774, Easley, SC 29642 or by phone (864) 855.0853. In addition to these donations, UCM also has a variety of volunteer opportunities for those who want to give their time to this ministry.

Anyone in need of emergency assistance can contact UCM at the same phone number listed above or by visiting UCM at 303 Dacusville Highway in Easley. Hours of operation for UCM are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m.-noon.  UCM staff asks people to arrive early so they can be interviewed and served prior to their noon closing time.