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New home for Jefferson County Community Ministries

February 11, 2002

New home for Jefferson County Community Ministries



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W. Va. - When Jefferson County Community Ministries needed a bigger location to reach out to needy families, there was an outpouring of support.

Organizations such as Charles Town Races and the Jefferson County Commission donated money to help the agency purchase a bigger building, and scores of volunteers chipped in with nails and hammers.

The commissioners donated $20,000 toward the purchase of the former Dollar General store at 238 W. Washington St. for the ministry, and the Charles Town Races donated $25,000, said Jane Bowers, executive director of the agency.

Racetrack officials also sent over a crew of volunteer workers to help convert the building from a retail store to a food and clothing pantry, Bowers said.

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Boy Scouts volunteered time to clean trash out of the basement of the building, Dan Ryan Builders Inc. donated a Dumpster to haul away debris, Lowe's Home Improvement store gave the agency a break on delivery costs for materials, Wal-Mart donated money and Job Corps youths pitched in labor, Bowers said.

"It was an incredible job. It's been a real community effort," Bowers said.

Now Jefferson County Ministries has a central location to operate its assistance programs.

Before moving into its new location, the agency operated out of three locations in Charles Town, W.Va., which made it inefficient, Bowers said.

The agency ran a food pantry on South Samuel Street, an adult clothing closet at Charles Town Presbyterian Church and an office and child's clothing closet at Zion Episcopal Church.

People receiving both clothing and food had to go several blocks to the food pantry after getting clothing, and it was confusing to people, especially those who had just moved into the area, Bowers said.

On top of that, the ministry was bulging at the seams, Bowers said.

"There wasn't room to breathe," she said.

Jefferson County Community Ministries bought the new building Jan. 5, 2001, and volunteers worked the better part of the year to convert it, Bowers said.

The volunteers who worked on the project erected interior walls to divide the clothes area, food pantry and other areas like a conference room and smaller meeting rooms.

When program participants enter the new location on West Washington Street, there is a large waiting area where they are screened.

Down the hall is a room where donated clothing is sorted, folded and arranged on numerous racks.

The food pantry in the back looks like a small grocery store with three aisles of food and items stacked on shelves at both ends of the room.

Bowers said the organization looked at several possible locations for its headquarters. Some old homes were considered but their layout made it impossible to have an efficient operation. Other possible locations were too far away from downtown, Bowers said.

The price tag was $225,000, but the ministry was able to purchase it for $165,000.

The building allowed the ministry, which is supported by 45 churches and other individuals, to expand from 1,500 to 6,000 square feet of space.

Jefferson County Community Ministries was set up to offer people short-term assistance until they can work out solutions to problems that are causing them financial hardship.

Besides food and clothing, the agency offers financial help for people to deal with essential expenses such as medicine, utilities, rent, heating fuel and gas to help them get to work.

While the Eastern Panhandle has often been insulated from rough times in the nation's economy, Bowers has always been surprised at the number of people who need such assistance.

Jefferson County Community Ministries assisted more than 2,000 people last year, and an average of 20 new families a month were coming to the agency for help, said Bowers.

"That, to me, is something people should be paying attention to," Bowers said.

Unlike the federal government, which sometimes only uses one's gross income to determine level of assistance, Jefferson County Ministries considers a family's entire financial picture to determine whether it needs assistance, said Bowers.

A family may be able to make ends meet most of the time, but a sickness or some other hardship could easily land them in a financial quagmire, Bowers said.

In case of a sickness, such a family may earn too much money to get prescription assistance through Medicaid. On the other hand, they cannot afford private insurance to pay for the medication, Bowers said.

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