Small churches in Juneau often are approached for financial assistance by the homeless or the "working poor" - those who are a paycheck or a minor emergency away from becoming homeless.
But often those churches, with limited funds and expertise, are unable to offer proper support, said some Juneau church officials. They are forced to provide a temporary fix instead of getting at the root of the problem.
Eight Juneau churches have joined forces to solve this problem by starting a branch of Love INC, a nationwide nonprofit organization.
Providing aid to the needy "was kind of an area of frustration for me for many, many years," said Patrick Brayton, pastor of Valley Chapel, one of the churches that joined Love INC. "I felt we weren't doing a good job, not for lack of desire, but because we really didn't know what we were doing and I thought we could do better."
When David Eley, a member of Chapel by the Lake, and Steve Olmstead, senior pastor there, approached Christian churches in Juneau with the idea of forming Love INC, Brayton jumped on the idea.
"There's hardly a week goes by when somebody doesn't call and need help in one way or another, financially for food or fuel or something," Brayton said. "But because we're small churches, we're limited in what we can do."
Eley first heard of Love INC, which stands for Love In the Name of Christ, at a conference in Seattle last year. The organization is a division of World Vision, an evangelical Christian organization that provides food and clothing to children in impoverished countries.
Love INC goes beyond simply providing food to a homeless person or helping a single mom pay her energy bill, Eley said. Instead, it tries to help clients get at the root of their problems, whether that entails providing financial counseling, drug or alcohol treatment or job training.
Jetta Whittaker, executive director of the Glory Hole, said an organization like Love INC is desperately needed in Juneau.
"We have a lot of people having a hard time trying to navigate the system," Whittaker said. "We don't have any case management staff at the Glory Hole, so our capability to help people with that is very limited."
Some homeless in Juneau "work the system" by visiting several churches each month and asking for food and money, Eley said.
"While we're sympathetic to their needs, we think we need to be a bit more proactive in helping as many people as we can," he said.
Love INC does not yet have an office in Juneau, but several churches have offered space if a qualified individual is willing to donate his or her time getting the operation off the ground, Eley said. Nine community members have joined the board of directors of the organization.
The eight churches that have already joined Love INC made an initial donation to pay for a training session this weekend. Eley hopes to raise more funds through faith-based government grants, and through church member donations.
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Auke Bay Bible Church, Chapel by the Lake, Faith Lutheran Church, Glacier Valley Church of God, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church and Valley Chapel are the founding members of the Love INC. The corporation is designed so that more churches will join in the future.
"In the Juneau Empire church directory I counted 35 different Christian churches, and if we got all 35 of them to join Love INC, it wouldn't take a whole lot of money to have an impact," Eley said.
An informational meeting for Love INC will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Shepherd of the Valley. For more information, e-mail Eley at email@example.com.
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