In song and cries of "praise the Lord," members of North County churches celebrated yesterday a year of working together to help the needy, throwing a birthday bash and pleading for contributions to get through the coming year.
"There are too many people, not enough money," said Jackie Coyle, the outgoing president of the North County Emergency Outreach Network. "Seventy thousand dollars is not enough money. We thought the shelves would always have food. Take a look over there. They are not full."
The outreach program began last year to provide money and food to North County residents in emergencies. The program helps people who lose their jobs and those who for many reasons are short of cash and need help with rent and utility bills.
"People were running from church to church to church," said Peggy Vick, founder of the program and director of the North Anne Arundel Salvation Army.
The 75 people who came for the celebration filled the Community Church of God in Glen Burnie, shouting songs, joining hands and saying thanks for getting through the first year.
Most who came were volunteers who donate their time to the outreach program.
"If we respond to God, it is more then just volunteer work," said the Rev. Olin R. Herndon of the Glen Burnie United Methodist Church. "What you give to NCEON is more than a basket of food. It is more important than money. You give your lives."
Through the 27 member churches of varying denominations, the outreach network raised and distributed $70,000 to help people pay rent, utilities and get them back on their feet. The network also gave out 2,600 food bags and gave assistance to 1,400 families and 3,200 children.
Organizers said they were surprised at the number of people who needed help, adding that the they expect the figures to double this coming year. "We never stopped believing, because there was a crisis and we needed to make a difference," Coyle said.
The Rev. Ruth Smith, pastor of the Community Church of God, which houses the outreach program's headquarters, said a year ago many people doubted the idea could work.
"Who would have thought that we in here could get all the churches together?" she said. "We worship in different ways and in different churches, but we are all (God's) people."
Smith also pleaded for donations, saying she herself was overwhelmed by the number of people, especially children, needing help. "I didn't know there were that many needy children in our area," she said. "It's amazing." Vick said the idea for the outreach network started about two years ago when all other sources of help ran dry.
"They hit rock-bottom in terms of food and finances," she said. Talk began on what to do about it. "You don't really do anything until you get in a crisis," she said.
Several grants, including one for $5,000 from the Glen Burnie Improvement Association, helped get the outreach program started. It opened Sept. 18, 1989.
People needing help must first go through a screening process so workers can assess particular problems. Though the center is designed for short-term emergency help, Vick said they are finding the same people coming back month after month.
"We have to look into providing more comprehensive service," she said. "Many people have long-term problems."