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When helpers need help

While they offer everything from groceries and hot meals to diapers, school clothes and other support to the community's most needy, members of First Presbyterian Church of Phoenix say they could be in some dire straits of their own before year's end.

Church members took to social media this week in a cry for help.

Church members say merely four months' worth of funds are on hand to cover basic operating expenses. The church relies on donations, grants and a dwindling stream of Sunday offerings to keep its doors open at 121 W. Second St.

Paula York, a Phoenix resident and clerk of session for the church, says the aging congregation gives what it can to help the community.

Donations of groceries, fresh produce, clothing, diapers and other supplies pour in regularly, requiring a small army of volunteers to manage.

"It's such a blessing for us. We find that a lot of people have a need for a lot of things and we have gotten really good at providing those things," York said, noting that volunteers for the food pantry and clothing closet pride themselves on not limiting or restricting what is provided.

"We hand them a bag when they come in and say, 'Happy shopping.'"

Supplies for the food pantry come from various community organizations and businesses, including the "green bag" Food Project, Harry & David and ACCESS Inc.

Financially, however, the church is struggling to keep the lights on.

Expenses for basic monthly bills, such as lights and water, are hard to meet with donated bags of food and gently used clothes.

In addition to the food pantry, open Wednesdays and Saturdays each week, the church offers community dinners twice a month that serve 160-300 people at each.

The church also provides space for a large clothing closet founded last year by then-Phoenix High School senior Kayla Bradley and provides meeting space to a startup church, scout groups, recovery groups and others.

York said the church doesn't restrict who can receive help in the way other programs in the community do.

"With the things we offer, we don't care where people are from or if we'll ever see them again. If they come to our door and sign in, we're going to give them what they need," she said.

"As far as the congregation, if everybody shows up to church on Sunday, we have about 30 people there. But we're helping literally hundreds and hundreds of people every month who don't have a dime to their name."

Talent resident and church deacon Gloria Roden said she was hopeful the community would step up and help the church past its financial hurdle to enable its programs to continue.

"With the food pantry we're not supposed to let them come every week, but when they show up every week and you know they need it, you can't turn them away," she said.

"Sure the church needs a new roof, but we're just trying to keep the lights on. We just have to pray a big storm doesn't come along and tear the shingles off, I guess."

York said the church leadership team would post on Facebook in coming weeks when they devise a plan for fundraising.

"Initially, our bookkeeper said we had about four months left. And we've cut everything down to bare bones to still operate a full service church," she said.

"We will just continue to do what we do as long as the good Lord allows. To quote the phrase, 'What would Jesus do?' Well, we're doing it."

Find the church's Facebook page at http://ow.ly/RPQZc.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.