Aid group finds itself in need

MANATEE — Lexie O. Taylor marked her 16th year as executive director of Manatee Religious Services Inc. on Wednesday.

And that tenure allows her to say with confidence that the organization has never faced bigger challenges trying to stay afloat, while fulfilling its mission of linking people in need with Manatee County religious organizations and social service agencies.

“We’re not meeting our budget,” Taylor said. “We’re here for the churches, but it’s the economy.”

Manatee Religious Services, founded in 1984, serves as a clearinghouse for churches that seek to help families or individuals with financial or spiritual needs.

The group has temporarily frozen applications because of the backlog that has accrued, Taylor said. They are getting 15 to 20 calls for help each day.

The group gets operating funds from donations from churches, individuals and two fundraisers: an October golf tournament and a November banquet.

Donations are down from $12,000 per month to $7,000 per month, Taylor said. The organization employs two full-time staff members, down from four, and two part-time staffers. Several church volunteers help out as well.

Potential clients are guided through an eight-page application and checked against the organization’s database of requests to prevent fraud. At the end of the process, the organization refers clients to a church in their area or to a social service agency.

The organization promises its churches four things: to verify the request and to request a need that is specific, manageable and in the church’s immediate area.

“We view them as an extension of our church,” said the Rev. Joey Mimbs, senior pastor at Bethel Baptist Church and a Manatee Religious Services board member. “They can take the time to find out if it’s a legitimate need. Also, we’re not looking for a quick fix. Manatee Religious Services allows us to help people take the next step.”

Of Manatee’s 270 churches, 38 contribute financially to Manatee Religious Services in amounts ranging from $10 to $3,000 per year, Taylor said.

Almost 200 churches are on the roster to help those in need when they receive referrals.

“We just need more churches to come on board and come back and own the ministry,” Taylor said.

Taylor knows it’s a difficult time for church budgets as well, but says the help Manatee Religious Service provides is vital for churches.

“It’s tough,” Taylor said, “because we’re asking the churches to fund us, to keep us operational. But we’re going to be calling the churches back and saying ‘Can you pay somebody’s rent?’ ‘Can you pay this utility bill?’ ‘Would you partner with this church in helping this family get back on their feet?’

“We’re trying to protect their benevolence funds and trying to be good stewards of their money for them.”

To donate to Manatee Religious Services, call 752-4850. Those who need assistance may call 752-4271 or 752-4344, starting at 9 a.m. Monday.