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Connellsville Area Community Ministries outreach grows

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 6:42 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Community Ministries, including the Care and Share Shop and the Food Pantry, is located at 110 W. Crawford Ave. in Connellsville. Medical equipment, medical supplies, child care items, clothing and furniture are all available to the public. The Food Pantry is opened for those who qualify with income verification.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Fruit, cereal, soup and pasta are items included in emergency grocery boxes for those families in need of assistance. Community Ministries fed more than 300 families in 2012 through the Fayette County Community Action Food Pantry. Families consisting of two to seven members have been helped.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Good quality, donated furniture can be purchased from the stock room at Community Ministries. Tables, chairs, lamps and computers are currently available.

Connellsville Area Community Ministries was started in 1974 after a 1968 fire destroyed Central Methodist Church in Connellsville.

Instead of rebuilding, congregants decided to start a ministry because they could attend other Methodist churches in town. They used the fire insurance money to establish the ministries.

The mission statement from Connellsville Area Community Ministries is: “CACM is an extension of the church to all hurting people needing support in life's development and the struggle to obtain justice and a healthful life grounded in God's Love.”

Shelly Auer, assistant director, came to the ministries in June 2011 from a job in retail.

“I was feeling restless in my job, knowing God had a calling for me in my life,” she said. “I was searching and refused several job offers because I knew they were not what God was putting in my heart. I gave the ministries director a resume and cover letter and forgot about it. He called, and I interviewed and accepted the job without knowing hours, wages, benefits or anything.”

Auer said she felt at that moment she had answered the call.

“I had volunteered at the ministries as a teenager with my grandmother Mary Basinger and my great-aunt Jane Hepler. She was the assistant of Rev. Gerald Witt and began the Care and Share Boutique; it is co-named the Jane Hepler Memorial Boutique,” Auer said.

Connellsville Area Community Ministries moved to its new location, 110 W. Crawford Ave., in January 2012.

“We had outgrown our space and needed more room to expand. We are also saving money in the long run, being the owner of our own facilities, because we don't have to pay rent anymore,” Auer said.

The actual move from Connellsville Area Community Center to the new location was quite an undertaking.

“We knew we had a huge job ahead of us. We had countless people in the community step up to help us to get moved and organized. Our biggest help in the beginning was Brandon Sabatula who donated time and materials, saving us between $5,000 and $8,000 by drafting our blueprints that we needed to continue with our building projects. Without that, we would still be in a big, wide-open space. God sends exactly who we need, when we need them,” Auer said.

“The move to Crawford Avenue has been a real positive for Community Ministries,” said Barry Craig, a member of Connellsville Area Community Ministries Board of Directors. “There is more visibility of the ministry in the new location, and we are serving more of the area's needy. We have seen growth in many ways. The boutique is very busy. We encourage more volunteers to get involved.”

Auer said the ministries have come a long way in the first year at the new location.

“We have had mission groups coming in from New Jersey, Indiana and around Pennsylvania to assist us in building. We had hundreds of linear feet of walls to build and that includes framing, drywall, electric, painting and more. We have demolished the old pharmacy area of this former drug store and re-purposed that wood to level floors and build cross beams.

“We have been very resourceful and have relied on donations specifically for our building project and only items the community has provided,” Auer said. “We have a lot of drywall yet to hang and wiring to run and probably another year of construction until we can say we have this completed.”

The food pantry is increasing every year in numbers, with 152 more boxes served in 2012 than 2011, for a total of 3,580 boxes distributed, she said.

“We are provided food through Fayette County Community Action Agency for the main food box,” Auer said. “It is then subsidized through items donated by the community through individuals, churches and organizations. These food items, totaling over 11,000, were then able to be given in addition to the food box.”

Auer explained that a No. 1 box is for a family of one or two and contains 11 to 14 items per month; they can choose an additional two items.

“They can only get a food box once a month, so the items provided by the community are vital,” she said.

A No. 2 box is for a family of three or four, who choose four additional items; No. 3 box, family of five to 6, who select six additional items; No. 4 box, for a family of seven or more, who can pick eight additional items.

“Wal-Mart of Connellsville and Martin's of Connellsville provide us with bakery, deli and produce items to distribute to our clients, also,” Auer said.

“Food pantry and other donations increase during the holiday season,” Craig said, “but it is important to remember that donations are needed throughout the year.”

The Care & Share Boutique has nearly doubled its size since the move.

The boutique is open to everyone — not just crisis victims — from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

Sharon Wilson, boutique supervisor, has worked with her staff of volunteers to make the shop, which she calls a pleasant shopping experience. They go over every item that enters the building, clean, test, price and place in the shop.

Donations can be dropped off at the back of the building from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. There is a volunteer staff to unload. Almost any items are accepted, including clothing, shoes, coats, undergarments, bedding, housewares, home décor, new and used toys, furniture, and appliances small and large. Medical equipment also is accepted as part of the medical-lending program.

“We feel more a part of the community now that we are on Crawford Avenue,” Auer said. “We are working every day to improve our building and feel we have come a long way in one year, but we still have a long way to go. We are always happy to see new volunteers as there is still so much to do. Everyone here has a call to help the people in this community and without the volunteers, we could not exist.”

Connellsville Area Community Ministries relies heavily on the community to provide the money and materials needed to assist the people of Connellsville.

“We haven't let any of the programs we have lapse in any way. We have kept all of them up and running. Connellsville is a very giving community and has a very diverse income, but all are giving no matter what income,” Auer said.

Connellsville Area Community Ministries Executive Director is the Rev. Charles Prevot; director, the Rev. Doug Johnson; supervisor of Care & Share Boutique, Sharon Wilson; and food-room supervisor, Jack Love.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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