By: Katie Sobiech
Driving through the streets of Akron and seeing the homeless holding up signs saying “Disabled, please help”, may cause you to wonder ‘is there anyone helping these people?’
The answer is yes – due to ministries such as Love in the Name of Christ (Love INC). Because of this ministry, work is being completed behind the scenes for the poor and needy, providing miracles in the lives of many families at a local level. Daily, blessings are being poured upon the forgotten on our streets and in our neighborhoods.
Love INC connects those who have with those who do not have by taking in calls from people in need, as well as those who want to share their time, talents and gifts – bringing them together.
Getting Started in Akron
Love INC is part of a national organization that will celebrate its 30th global anniversary this year. Its roots in Akron began with Duane Crabbs, founder of South Street Ministries, who had a vision to get the churches more involved in helping the poor on a community level. After reading an article about a pilot program on Love INC in Michigan, he wrote a letter expressing his desire to start something in Akron. He then called together some of the leading pastors in the community, they met, and Love INC was born in Summit County. Love INC Summit County will celebrate its 20th year in 2009.
Celena Flunoy, Executive Director of Love INC, began as a volunteer. After working at a hospital for nearly 25 years and seeing four generations of very poor families rotating through the welfare cycle program, she thought ‘somebody should be doing something to help break this cycle.’
“I would complain about seeing all the children coming back at 15, 16 years old and being pregnant,” she explained, “here you are at an OB clinic and you have a 15 year old pregnant with her 30 year old mother who’s pregnant.”
She felt the church needed to step up. Her friends would ask her “Well what are you going to do about it?” and she would reply “Well why doesn’t the church do something?”
Then it hit her – the church isn’t a building – we as Christians are the church. She soon felt called to resign from her job as God was leading her in a new direction. Having no idea what she was going to do, she happened to stumble across Love INC. She immediately had a desire to volunteer and has worked with the ministry ever since.
What They Do
Love INC is multifaceted. Their mission is to mobilize churches to respond compassionately to the needs of the poor, and in order to do this, they run a clearing house for local churches. When churches get phone calls from people in need, they send their calls to Love INC which screens and processes them to make sure that they are legitimate. After this they contact the churches or individuals that they know can provide the particular need being requested.
Recently a couple of families that had come out of a shelter and had nothing in their homes were referred by a social service agency. They had several requests, so Flunoy called the church that knew of these needs, made sure they were legitimate, and gave them the ok to put the needs in the church bulletin so that the items could be collected and delivered to the families.
Another woman called recently with a car that she wanted to give away. Flunoy, knowing a family in need of a car, was able to connect the two.
One reason that many have not heard of Love INC is that when the volunteers from churches go out, they don’t go out representing Love INC; they go out representing their church. For this reason, many do not know of the work they do.
“I think that is really important and special,” Flunoy said, “because too many times we hear that the churches are dormant and aren’t doing anything, but the churches are alive, they’re alive in Summit County, they’re alive everywhere, and the people are doing some really wonderfully great things. I see it and hear it everyday.”
How it’s Evolved
“When this great country of ours was created,” Flunoy said, “there were no social service organizations. Social services were provided by the church.”
Over the years agencies came into existence, but they do not have all of the resources that people need. For example, drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics provide their clients counseling, but when the client says “I just moved into an apartment and don’t have any furniture” the agency cannot help because they can’t provide the direct service that is needed. This is why agencies have begun calling the churches, and those in need are able to have a wider range of services available to them.
Sound Off for Poverty
Something relatively new for this ministry is Sound Off for Poverty (SOFP), an initiative that encourages youth to turn off anything with sound; such as computers, cell phones, i-pods, etc. They do this for a 24 hour period and go out and get pledges from people who will give financial donations. The funds raised go to the ministry to pay for utilities.
Youth groups are highly encouraged to get involved. They take a weekend and on that Saturday the ministry has them do outreaches and have community days. Last year one of the church youth groups did a project at a center for mentally disabled adults. The teens brought videos, popped popcorn and had crafts and games. They have returned several times since then.
“We need to start teaching our children at a young age to recognize and know that there are poor people living right here and how they can respond.”
This is a National Initiative that is going to be done across the United States and will be held in October and then again in March of this year.
“Let us see what our youth can do, because we hear such negative things about them, you know, the stuff going on in schools, the kids coming in and shooting other students, the meth labs,” Flunoy said, “God did not create us for that, so if we get our children involved in something positive where they can walk away and feel good about themselves then I think they’re going to be less likely to do some of these other things.”
There are countless stories of people being helped through this ministry and they want to keep the spirit of generosity flowing.
“God is moving, He’s doing some miraculous things and people are being helped, people are having a relationship with Christ,” Flunoy said.
They get many phone calls from thankful individuals who say they’ve been pointed in the right direction due to the ministry. Flunoy explained that as Christians we are to follow Christ’s example, who did not come to be served, but to serve.
“That’s my scripture and I believe that and live by that,” she said, “I believe God called me to life to serve him unto death, and it’s not how we start but how we finish.”
How You Can Help
The ultimate goal of this ministry is to get every church in Summit County involved in targeted outreach in their communities. Flunoy’s vision is to get more members of the churches involved, including youth pastors and younger people.
They are currently revamping their board and looking for individuals who have good ideas about marketing and communicating, and will be moving into new areas including budgeting and financial management.
They also need individuals to donate items such as toothpaste, deodorant and toilet paper.
“A lot of people don’t know that if you’re on welfare and get food stamps you can’t buy anything taxable with food stamps, you can only buy food.”
Those who don’t have money and live on food stamps cannot buy items such as toothpaste and soap. For this reason, they have pantries planted throughout Summit County where people can get those items. It is staffed by volunteers and everything there is donated by members of the church.
“There are a lot of small things that we can do that a lot of people say ‘oh that’s not enough’ but we’re able to take little and multiply it and make much.”