WESTMINSTER — Appropriately, the first thing Kathy Brown points out in her tiny office on the second floor of the Department of Social Services Building is the wooden shepherd's staff hanging on the wall.
Brown is director of The Shepherd's Staff, a cooperative ministry of Westminster-area churches.
And the need for that ministry is great, Brown said.
"We've only been open seven weeks, and I've probably talked to more than 100 people and physically helped more than 70," she said.
Help providedby Shepherd's Staff is as wide-ranging as the people who come into Brown's office. If you need help paying utility bills or rent, buying food, landing a job or clothing your kids, Shepherd's Staff probably can assist in some way.
"We work with all the resources we have available to us -- DSS, Human Services, Salvation Army and other organizations that provide assistance -- to try to offer long-term solutions to problems," Brown said.
Those who seek aid from Shepherd's Staff first talk to Brown to give her an idea of the problem, then fill out a simple form for her records. Among other things, the form asks where the client has been for help.
All information is confidential, Brown said.
Some people may not know where to turn for a specific kind of help, or how to ask for assistance, she said. Shepherd's Staff can refer them to the appropriate agency and, if necessary, provide additional aid.
"Each case is treated individually -- there are no rules," Brown said. "You just try to meet the need.
"It's notjust street people or people who don't work who come to us," she said. "There's an across-the-board need. All strata of life come in -- people who lost a job or who work but make such a small income that they fall behind."
Brown said Shepherd's Staff is not just an agencythat gives handouts to the needy. Instead of simply giving money to a client, vouchers are made out to the food store or utility company.
Shepherd's Staff is overseen by four officers and a seven-member board of directors representing eight of the 21 churches that participate in the program.
The group is gathering a core of volunteers to serve on fund development, public relations, office assistance, advocacy, transportation, senior assistance, special projects and newsletter committees.
Hiring Brown, a former board member, as director was the group's first step in opening its doors.
"I've always beeninvolved in helping people in need -- children, youth, seniors. I'm always wanting to serve," said Brown, a member of Grace Lutheran Church. "I heard about Shepherd's Staff through church. And when they hadan open meeting, I went to learn more about it."
She was nominated for the board and later took on the directorship.
The petite, dark-haired, bespectacled Brown has a ready smile, infectious enthusiasm and faith that helps her handle an often difficult job.
"To dealevery day with people's heartaches and problems, you have to have God with you and you have to have a sense of humor," she said.
Shepherd's Staff has many needs, too, she said.
Brown is soliciting donations of plastic or paper bags with handles and items to fill them with for children who come into the office with their parents.
"It's just a little something to take with them to make them feel good," she said.
Non-food items, such as baby products, paper and cleaning goods are needed for what she calls her "blessings closet" to help with things not covered by food stamps or other assistance programs.
Upcoming fund-raisers to help with these projects include a booth at this weekend's Westminster Fallfest, where volunteers will hand out cedar chip sachets and accept donations.
The group also will have an ecumenical concert Oct. 20 in Baker Chapel at Western Maryland College. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
Anotherfund-raiser is being held in cooperation with the Baltimore Blast. For each ticket sold to the Blast's Oct. 19 game against Dallas, Shepherd's Staff will receive $2. The $14 tickets, which include bus fare to Baltimore, must be purchased by Oct. 9. For tickets, call the Rev.Mark Crispell at 848-6402.
The Shepherd's Staff office, at 10 Distillery Drive, is open 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; it is closed Wednesdays and weekends.