PENNSDALE – The earth has angels. They are office angels that support others who have lost a home, or have no place to go. They give families and children help getting back on their feet, securing employment, saving money, and devoting much of their time to help individuals restore hope, regain security and remain independent.
The Trinity United Methodist Church in Pennsdale is one of 15 churches with the Family Promise program of Lycoming County that hosts families who need assistance with shelter and meals. Since 2010 these local churches have been providing a network for families without homes by partnering together with hundreds of volunteers and resources to interact in a “home-like setting” during a difficult time.
An open house was held on May 15 to explain to the public how the program works. According to director, Melissa Magargle, the churches rotate every week from Sunday to Saturday and provide meals and lodging for displaced residents. There are guidelines for eligibility, and Magargle explained that a 15 passenger van was purchased 3 years ago to transport the families every week from the home day center to each church at night for meals and sleeping arrangements.
During the week of May 26, Pennsdale United Methodist Church on Village Road hosted two families. This was the third time this year the church made accommodations. Pastor Rob Ransom said that they do make arrangements with other congregations in the area, and partner with them to help provide meals, volunteers and activities. Other churches in the area that help include Christ United Methodist Church in Hughesville, First United Methodist Church in Muncy and the United Methodist Church in Huntersville. “We work together as a cluster,” explained Pastor Ransom.
Janet Patterson from Picture Rocks is the contact coordinator and diligently organizes the schedule and volunteers at the Pennsdale church. “We do this four times a year,” she announced. Very dedicated, enthusiastic people are involved with this project, and Patterson said she is always looking for more help. “We had over 40 volunteers that came to set up and take down everything,” she said. Supplies are transported with the families, and sleeping quarters are set up each time for the week. Sometimes the Sunday school rooms are used to accommodate smaller families.
Patterson also said that anyone can come and help, all ages. “They do not have to be a member of the congregation.” Sometimes students like to come and play with the smaller children. Others like to drive the van and take the families back to the day center at 804 Sherman Street in Williamsport, where they are home based. Laundry facilities, showers and a clothes closet are a few of the resources utilized during their time in the program. Besides the director, a full time caseworker is on staff to direct them with their goals and education. Magargle said, “Intensive, individual case management is given.” From there children are bussed to school and participants arrive by 6:15 a.m. every morning.
Families must be capable of participating in a family environment under supervision and no fees are charged for services. They cannot have a criminal background, or be on probation. Some of the families remain in the program for longer periods of time, depending on their situation. “Sometimes we see them twice,” replied Patterson. “If they stay with the program, you do see growth and some successes.”
Patterson further explained that volunteers work in different shifts. Cathy and Butch Dauberman from Muncy came and provided activities with the kids. Another family came to the Pennsdale Church and held a bonfire outside last Wednesday evening where they toasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Joyce McCarty from First United Methodist Church in Muncy brought meals, and Joan Hilkert said she spent ten hours overnight at the church to help.
“We depend on financial donations, not federal help,” Magargle said. “It is generally a 4 month program.” Many come into the program due to financial hardship, medical needs or might have been a flood victim. “Often they come here with nothing,” she added. “This is not a religious based program,” the director said, “but a national program with many partnerships.”
Each night, Patterson said she checks in to see the volunteer sign-in log while at Pennsdale UM Church. There is a thrift shop next door to the church that is open also to the families. “Moms can go over and get free clothing for job interviews and shorts for their kids. We had 4 families with children the last time.” The church will be hosting again the week of September 22-29, and again from December 29 to January 5. Volunteers work for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Patterson said she organized some rules and guidelines, and tips for the overnight stays to make the process run more smoothly. “Training is provided for the volunteers.” She also acknowledged that Pat Lamoreaux and Opal Schleppi from Muncy also assisted her and were a great support. Steve Seabridge coordinated the van drivers. “We are currently looking for mentors to continue working with the families after they are finished with the program,” Magargle added. Also needed are drivers and volunteers to come in and play with the children and help with meals.
Several fundraisers are organized throughout the year. Last weekend Five Below in Muncy Township donated 10 percent back to Family Promise. On Saturday, June 1 a volunteer appreciation dinner was given to all volunteers at the First United Methodist Church, and registrations are now being taken for “The Game of Life” The Amazing Race to End Homelessness. This will be held June 22 at Indian Park in Montoursville.
More information and a wish list can be found at the website www.familypromiselycoming.org or call 570-567-7103.