By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Charity giving is down at area churches, pastors say, and the Havre Ministerial Association has streamlined the way it conducts giving.
In the past, each church would help the needy directly. Now, each congregation that's a member of the ministerial association sends money to a pooled benevolence fund, which is then allocated to three groups: the Salvation Army, Sister Judith Maender at St. Jude's Catholic Church and the Havre Food Bank.
When a person comes to a local church for help, he or she is directed to one of those organizations, said Tim Maroney, pastoral associate at St. Jude's.
The change was partly in response to the fact that some people had received aid from several churches at once, abusing the resource, he said, but there are other benefits.
Maroney said he believes that with all of the churches directing everyone to the same charities, there is a greater likelihood that people will find a place where they are comfortable asking for help. In addition, they are less likely to go unhelped just because a particular church's charity fund is low at a particular time.
He said he feared some people who are not Catholic would not approach St. Jude's, but now the church can still indirectly assist those people, as well as anyone who does approach the Catholic church directly.
It also helps the charity groups whose funding is down, he added.
"It's very positive," said the Rev. Brad Ulgenes of First Lutheran Church. "We wanted a coordinated effort."
But even with pooled resources, Ulgenes said, the funds are low this year. During the holidays, people think more about the needy, he said, and Thanksgiving sermons have prompted more donations to the benevolence fund, but the ministerial association plans to raise the issue again with church members in January and February so that giving does not fall off.
The Rev. Jim Jenkins of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who is treasurer of the ministerial association, said the association gave about $4,000 to local charities last year, while this year the number is just over $2,000.
He said he realizes that people give through other venues, and he does not want the ministerial association to ask for too much. He thinks it should be a supplement to donations made directly to the food bank and other charities.
With good crop yields this year, Jenkins said, he suspects people may be buying things for themselves for the first time in a while, rather than donating to charities.
"The main thing we're looking at here is to make people aware that the churches are working together with those three organizations," he said.
The ministerial association gives $50 a month to the food bank, manager Don Bleak said. The other money from the benevolence fund is divided between the Salvation Army and Sister Judith's charity, depending on their needs.
The charities don't give money to the people they help, Maroney said, but will provide vouchers for gas or other services.
Individual churches have not all cut off direct giving. Ulgenes said he was approached on Christmas Eve by a man who needed help. He said the church purchased the man a hotel room and a train ticket to the place he was trying to reach. When the church's own fund is low, Ulgenes said, he gives out of his own pocket.
The ministerial association also helps out people referred by the District IV Human Resources Development Council, Ulgenes said.
Ulgenes said the ministerial association and the groups it benefits also have Thrivent Financial for Lutheran to thank for its contributions. The dividends on investments made by the company go to community groups, rather than the investors. Those are split up by county, said Evelyn Krause, who is Thrivent's treasurer in Hill County.
This year, Krause said, the county committee had $8,000 to give to community efforts or needy individuals. At the end of the year there were extra funds. Of those, $1,000 went to the Havre Food Bank, $1,000 went to the Salvation Army, $600 went to the ministerial association, $300 to gas vouchers through Sister Judith's charity and $300 to pharmacy vouchers through her charity.