After five years of planning and preparing, a Hillsdale County affiliate of nationwide nonprofit Love In the Name of Christ, or Love INC, will mobilize churches to help those in need of aid, whether it be financial or spiritual.
It’s in the final stages, Rev. Pat Brooke of Hillsdale First Methodist Church said, estimating the official opening date will be this spring or summer. The group’s informal efforts, however, have already begun.
Love INC is a national organization that acts as a coordinating body, connecting local churches to each other so that as a unified force, the churches may address needs in the community that they couldn’t address on their own.
The organization is a clearinghouse, meaning that churches will refer those in need to Love INC, where trained volunteers and staff will have a conversation with people to examine the nature, extent, and legitimacy of their needs. Then, Love INC refers them to a partner church or agency that would best address the need. Finally, volunteers follow up with both the person helped and the helping organization.
The group’s philosophy is to try and solve the underlying, perhaps chronic needs rather than to address the superficial, presenting need of those who seek its help.
“What Love INC does is it takes time to talk with the person and find out what is the presenting need, and what is the underlying need that the churches can then address,” Brooke said. “We can work to not only remedy the pressing need, but ongoing needs. We offer spiritual help through it as well, because it’s a Christian organization.”
Brooke used the example of someone coming to a church with an overdue utilities bill. A church’s financial assistance is often limited, so the person may find herself having to find another church when she gets another bill the next month. Without an orchestrating body like Love INC, the underlying need — bad insulation, or job insecurity — goes unaddressed.
“There’s a certain amount of trust that will have to be gained between Love INC and the person asking for support,” Brooke said. She said the hope is to address the deeper needs rather than just the superficial ones. “We can then go back to churches and see this is the presenting need; this is the underlying need.”
Pastor of Somerset Congregational Church Lucas Miller ’01 is on the board of directors for Love INC. He said Love INC has just started taking calls last month, and the data is slim, but he guesses that the financial burdens are often the result of divorce or unemployment, drugs and alcohol that are prevalent in Hillsdale County, more so than other counties.
Brooke said recurring needs she has seen include utility cutoff and eviction notices. Food is another presenting problem, since while there are several food banks in the area, each has its own regulations. Finally, many people need support in keeping a job — making sure the employee has transportation and accountability, for example.
“I think there are jobs available in the county, but sometimes people need a little help to make sure they keep that job,” Brooke said.
While Love INC’s mission is to mobilize churches, Brooke said it will try to be a place of resources that could help people reach tax agencies and other departments.
Back in 2013, Brooke and Pastor Jason Meckelberg of College Baptist, who died in 2016, were looking for ways for churches to minister to church and community members.
Meckelberg had a desire for the churches in Hillsdale County to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable, College Baptist Pastor Ben Cuthbert said. Through Meckelberg’s initiative, College Baptist is one of the founding churches that brought Love INC to Hillsdale County.
“Our role is a historic connection ministry to bringing it to town, and support financially, to get more engaged and hands-on as ministry gets off the ground,” Cuthbert said.
Jenifer Somsel, the executive director of Love INC, came to College Baptist to speak in a recent Sunday morning service, Cuthbert said. Tithing from the first Sunday in February was designated to go to Love INC, in addition to what the church has already budgeted.
Going forward, Brooke said the group would like more churches to know what’s going on and get involved, as it’s an effort that extends from Somerset to Hanover-Horton almost to Hudson.
One challenge will be raising enough money for the operational costs of paying a director and overhead, as well as office expenses.
Response has generally been positive, Brooke said.
“People in churches really want to help people in ways that is really beneficial. Sometimes, paying a bill isn’t all that beneficial. That’s an exciting part for people. That opportunity to work with something more than just sending a check to a landlord or a utility company get to know deeper relationship with Christ.”