For 10 years, Blythewood-area congregations have offered a hand up to families in need and interstate travelers who find themselves stranded without money for gas or food.
Operating as a satellite office to downtown Columbia’s The Cooperative Ministry, the churches provided food, travelers’ aid, utility and rent assistance, and budget counseling.
Now, the congregations are establishing themselves as an independent nonprofit called the Christian Assistance Bridge. The office, at 126 Blythewood Road on the campus of Trinity United Methodist Church, will remain the same.
“It just seemed logical to do this,” said Cathy Jamieson-Ogg, Trinity’s pastor and a member of the board of directors. “We had been under their umbrella for 10 years, but in those 10 years Blythewood has grown considerably. It makes sense to break away from a downtown agency and have a more home-based ministry.”
By becoming an independent 501-3C organization, Jamieson-Ogg said the churches hope to generate more emergency assistance for the community. The Christian Assistance Bridge officially opens its doors Nov. 4, operating two days a week, Mondays and Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., the same schedule that was maintained under the The Cooperative Ministry.
Four churches — Trinity, Transfiguration Catholic, Bethel Baptist and Blythewood Presbyterian — are officially part of the new network, but Jamieson-Ogg said other community churches contribute by supplying volunteers and organizing food drives and fundraisers.
As the first church in sight for travelers leaving I-77 at exit 27, Jamieson-Ogg said the Trinity congregation is often the first place travelers come knocking, seeking food or assistance to purchase gas or make repairs.
But community need is even greater. Over the past decade, the satellite office has served an average of 60 people per month.
“In this economy, you see people living on the edge,” Jamieson-Ogg said. “We are even seeing people who we wouldn’t expect to come looking for help, people who have jobs and homes and find themselves in difficult financial situations. We see families who come to our ministry who are sleeping in their cars and their kids go to Blythewood High School.”
The initial budget is $62,250, money that will be largely funneled toward emergency assistance. No cash is exchanged, she said, but the Christian Assistance Bridge will help pay rent or utilities, provide gas cards and food and help families learn to budget effectively. Individuals or families may come to Christian Assistance Bridge once a year for financial help and for food every 60 days.
“What we are trying to do is send people to one central location,” she said. “We can screen them there properly and give them budget counseling.” She said the goal is to help families, primarily the working poor, become independent and avoid sliding further into debt or become homeless.
“People who come to us are one step away from homelessness,” she said. “Although we are not serving the homeless, we hope we are preventing homelessness.”
“An Evening at The Farm,” featuring Carolina foods and music, will raise funds for Blythewood’s newest nonprofit, the Christian Assistance Bridge. The CAB, a coalition of Blythewood congregations and support organizations, will provide emergency assistance to families and travelers in need.