Manatee Religious Services: 30 years of helping the hurting

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 26, 2014 

New Executive Director Joel Mimbs, 25, with volunteer Burt Van Ess of Manatee Religious Services, which turns 30 this year. It started as a way to help screen and network all the requests for assistance from people down on their luck. JAMES A. JONES JR./Bradenton Herald

BRADENTON -- For the past 30 years, Manatee Religious Services has been carrying out its mission of connecting families and individuals who are hurting or in crisis to caring churches.

While its mission has never changed, Manatee Religious Services now has a new executive director. Joel Mimbs, 25, replaced longtime Executive Director Lexie Taylor, who retired in December.

Mimbs was raised in Palmetto, and his father, Joey Mimbs, is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church.

Mimbs joined Manatee

Religious Services in 2011 as office manager. He is a graduate of Judson College in Elgin, Ill.

The Manatee Ministerial Association started Manatee Religious Services as a way to help screen and network all the requests for assistance from people down on their luck.

Today, 182 Christian congregations provide support to Manatee Religious Services.

"A church might have someone come to their door asking for help. They refer them to us," Mimbs said. "We look at where they are working, where the live and what caused the need."

Essentially, Manatee Religious Services screens the applicant to make sure the need is genuine, and then tries to match them with a church or other agency in their area.

Manatee Religious Services does not provide food, money or other support, except for referrals to help. Staff and volunteers deal with applicants over the phone.

"There is nothing here. No food, no money," Mimbs said.

Sometimes, Manatee Religious Services looks into a request for help, and finds the applicant has no valid need or is trying to scam the system.

In that case, they become the "bad guy," the one who has to say no.

"We see a lot of requests for help with rent or utilities," Mimbs said.

If valid need exists, for a utility bill, for example, Manatee Religious Services will tell the church, which writes a check to the electric provider.

"We create connections with churches that are comfortable and fit their spiritual as well as physical needs," Mimbs said. "We work as much for the churches in the area as much as we do for the people in need. We always try to give everyone who calls us options."Manatee Religious Services also work with other providers such as Goodwill, the One Stop Center and the Salvation Army.

The period since the Great Recession have been a tough time for congregations and Manatee Religious Services.

"We're still really needing additional support. It's a big challenge facing us," he said.

The organization will soon take part in the Sarasota Community Foundation's Giving Partner's Challenge. From noon May 6 until noon May 7, residents may donate through computers and smart phones to local nonprofits. For more information, go to thegivingpartner.guidestar.org/.

"Our funding is still a major source of prayer," Mimbs said.

Mimbs works with a board of directors whose members are drawn from Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Christian Reformed, charismatic and non-denominational congregations.

Director Burt Van Ess was volunteering at Manatee Religious Services this week.

"We have to be willing to give of ourselves," Van Ess said of his volunteer work. "We love what we do. We give the praise to the Lord. That's where it belongs. He opens the door and closes the door."

Coming face to face with so much need can be draining, and folks at Manatee Religious Services learn to "put your heart on hold until you hear the facts."

For more information about Manatee Religious Services, visit mcma-mrs.org/

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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