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Panel seeks help from churches to assist homeless

By Katie Demeria

A Shenandoah County committee is seeking assistance from local churches to help provide relief for the homeless.

The need, according to Libby Rocco, committee chair, has increased following the recent fire at the historic Alms House in Maurertown. The building housed the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter.

"What has happened has given us an extra impetus to have some kind of place for these homeless families, because we don't have the option of the shelter anymore," Rocco said.

The committee is in the process of starting a chapter of the Family Promise Interfaith Hospitality Network in Shenandoah County -- all they need is 13 churches to commit to helping them.

Family Promise operates by housing homeless families in churches in the evenings, feeding them breakfast and dinner, as well as packing lunches for them. During the day, the families go to a day center where counseling is offered to help get them on the right track.

Rocco said the day center is already in place and a van has been donated for transportation. What they are lacking, though, is the involvement of local churches.

"It's basically almost no financial commitment," Rocco said. "We're not talking about anymore than 15 people at a time."

Churches would rotate throughout the year, housing the families for only about four weeks a year. Right now only one church has committed to helping.

Rocco said churches would likely have to purchase their own sheets for the cots that the Family Promise committee would provide, but she said meals can likely be collected through donations, so the cost to the churches would be minimal.

The committee has been taking steps to implement Family Promise in the community since November 2013.

The group is comprised mostly of individuals from local churches, including Pastor Mark Bowyer of Wakemans Grove Church of the Brethren. Bowyer had worked with Family Promise in Ohio and suggested the committee implement the program.

Rocco said eventually the group hopes to assist individuals as well as families, but for now they are focusing their efforts on helping children.

"We checked with the county School Board to see how much of a problem this is, and they determined that there are 24 children in 19 families that do not have a permanent address," Rocco said.

She added that those numbers do not include children that are not in school, or families that use a different, fixed address.

Rocco said the program is useful because it encourages parents to look for employment or affordable housing while they sleep in buildings that are already heated and comfortable.

"I personally feel like this is a great way for us to help these families that are in need, but, and just as important, I feel like this is a wonderful opportunity for those of us who call ourselves Christians to actually do the hands-on service of serving someone else. Instead of sending money overseas, this can be a mission to do right here at home," she said.

Those churches interested in participating can contact Rocco at 540-335-5536.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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