Interfaith Service Coaliton expands

September 06, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

The Interfaith Service Coalition's recent purchase of two large buildings in Hancock has enabled the agency to expand its services and provide space for other help groups.

The coalition in late August bought the adjacent buildings and a parking lot on the corner of High Street and Pennsylvania Avenue after leasing the buildings to house the agency's thrift shop, offices, food bank and storage areas, Executive Director Debbie Cohill said.

"We had tremendously outgrown our little space in the Town Hall building," Cohill said.

The coalition has continued to grow since local churches and civic organizations started the agency in 1989 to address the lack of services available for people in the Hancock area, said the Rev. Allan Weatherholt, coalition board president.


"I think we are continuing to be a catalyst for more services coming to our community," he said.

The new property is a base from which the coalition can provide a "wide range of services," Coalition Board Treasurer Patrick Flickinger said.

The Self Help in Partnership (SHIP) program enables participants to buy groceries through the coalition at a reduced cost in return for a small fee and volunteer hours. The Keep a Senior Safe & Warm program features sessions on such issues as winter driving and using heat sources, and gives seniors information about fuel assistance programs.

The coalition now has enough space to offer these programs on-site instead of using area churches and other larger venues, Cohill said.

The Super Pantry Program - which provides training in such basic life skills as budgeting, parenting and preparing nutritious meals - will especially benefit from the move because one of the new buildings holds a kitchen that will be used for training seminars, Cohill said.

This year's $14,000 Gaming Commission grant will help fund renovations to the old kitchen, she said.

A primary function of the coalition is to offer support and direction to people in need by referring them to local, county and state agencies. Now, the coalition has enough space to house outreach workers from several of those agencies.

An employee of the Hagerstown-based Community Action Council now processes energy assistance applications for Hancock residents the first Friday of every month at the coalition's new office building, Cohill said.

Before, coalition workers completed and copied the applications before forwarding them to Hagerstown for processing.

Outreach workers from the Department of Social Services and Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown share an office in the coalition's new administrative building, Cohill said.

The coalition made the down-payment for the property with savings, a loan and grants - including $10,000 from the Washington County Gaming Commission, Cohill said.

Volunteers spent hundreds of hours cleaning and painting before the coalition moved into the building next to the thrift store in July, Cohill said. Volunteers are always needed to help run the thrift store and perform other coalition duties, she said.

The coalition is trying to raise $30,000 to upgrade the heating system and have central air conditioning installed in the thrift store building, Cohill said.

"We could increase prices in the store but that defeats the purpose of the store," she said. "We think of it as a service to the community."

The Bible says Jesus fed more than 5,000 hungry followers with five loaves and two fish, and the coalition's Loaves & Fishes Thrift Store is living up to the miracle that inspired its name, Weatherholt said.

Proceeds from the sale of low-cost clothing, furniture and household accessories - items much needed in the community - cover the monthly mortgage payment for the two buildings and help fund coalition programs, Weatherholt said.

"It's literally the loaves and fishes story revisited because a little becomes a lot in God's hands," Weatherholt said.

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