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MUST partners with KSU to help students feed their children

Many college students face financial challenges, but some struggle with homelessness or have children they are unable to feed.

KSU food pantrySo MUST Ministries is partnering with Kennesaw State University’s Center for Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment (CARE) to provide food and toiletries to students in poverty with children to feed.

The CARE Center offers support to students who are struggling with homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless, students experiencing food insecurity and those previously or currently in foster care. Among many other services, the center operates two on-campus food pantries.

According to CARE Center director Marcy Stidum, in some cases, these students have more than just themselves to support. If a student is a parent and living in poverty, MUST will supply groceries and toiletries to the family through the child-focused MUST Save It Forward (SIF) program.

“If we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty, we have to eliminate barriers and empower people to succeed,” according to the SIF Team.

“The MUST Save It Forward mission is to eliminate the barrier of hunger so students have a greater opportunity to succeed in school and life. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with KSU, allowing us to now serve students in all levels of education from elementary school all the way through college.”

How to help: A simple gift of $12 a month feeds a family through SIF. Just go to mustministries.org and donate online to help.

A simple way to give help that people really need!

Amazon shopping cartWe all want to help people in need, but it’s not always simple.

We want to give a person something that really helps. But how do we know what’s needed? And how do we get it to the people who need it most?

MUST Ministries has a simple solution: Our new Amazon.com wish list.

The wish list contains essential items that all our clients need, including necessities we often take for granted: towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and many other everyday items. You’ll also find items MUST Ministries need for its daily operations, like trash bags and copy paper.

Simply click this amazon.com link and select the items you want to donate — and the items will be shipped directly to our Donation Center.

How easy is that?! You know exactly what you’re contributing, and you know what you are giving to make a difference in someone else’s life.

You can find a direct link to the wish list on our website: mustministries.org/givehelp

MUST Ministries has been awarded Charity Navigator’s highest rating for dependability and excellence. For more information about MUST’s dedication to ethics and transparency, visit mustministries.org or charitynavigator.org.

MUST Ministries expands housing, food programs for families

Valentine’s Day announcement includes new housing units in Cobb County, increase in Save It Forward food allotments.

Thanks to a Valentine’s announcement, life will be sweeter this year for families in need as MUST Ministries makes significant strides in expanding programs. MUST’s efforts to meet the ever-growing demand for services to families experiencing poverty includes new housing opportunities and additional food distributed in schools.

motel programAccording to Exec. VP Chris Fields, barriers to stable housing can be significant, particularly for those with a disability. “For close to a decade, MUST has provided supportive housing to those who have a disability and are experiencing chronic homelessness.

“Today, we are announcing the opening of 10 additional apartment units in Cobb County to assist our neighbors in need. These new units will house both families and single adults whose head of household has a disabling condition and who have been chronically homeless. The expansion of the MUST program represents a 50 percent increase in our supportive housing program in Cobb.”

“We have more applications than beds, but approximately 24 people, including children, will have stable housing in the program expansion,” said VP of Programs Rachel Castillo.

This is the first time HUD has awarded a new supportive housing project for Cobb in nearly a decade, Fields stated. “MUST is very excited to expand our housing program and offer more stability for those in poverty. We are beginning to take applications now and plan to begin serving new households this month.”

The apartments in South Cobb are part of a two-year grant MUST hopes will be extended. The housing is on a bus line and also features walk-in closets and other amenities that raise the level of dignity and provide hope.

In addition to more supportive housing, families in the MUST Save It Forward (SIF) program will be receiving more food. MUST’s SIF program is a food pantry program in conjunction with Marietta and Cobb County Schools that allows students and their families to get 75 pounds of food and toiletries each month. The program not only provides much needed nutrition to children and their families, but also has been shown to improve learning and health for those children in this program.

“We are excited to announce the addition of five more pounds of food for each family between mid-February and the end of the school year,” said Fields. “Eliminating hunger in families is a strategic focus for MUST, so this increase is part of our continued effort to partner with our schools and community to serve hungry families.

MUST is now serving almost 2,000 people a month through the MUST SIF program. A counselor or social worker helps identify those children in greatest need, and MUST provides the food and toiletries using a couponing program with community shoppers.

The program has grown by 20 percent in terms of families served this year, said Paula Rigsby, Director of Children’s Programs at MUST. “We expect it to continue increasing. In addition to canned goods and toiletries, MUST works hard to provide frozen meat and fresh produce.

“We are so grateful and blessed by the support of our wonderful community and volunteers, coupon shoppers and donors and are honored to be able to increase the amount of food and toiletries provided to the families served by this program. Eliminating hunger allows school children to reduce absenteeism, while improving grades and social skill development.”

For more information on how to get involved in the MUST SIF program, email prigsby@mustministries.org.

Woodstock City Church steps up to help less-fortunate neighbors

A partnership ought to take you beyond the realm of what either partner could do alone, according to Dr. Ike Reighard, Pres. and CEO of MUST Ministries. “And that’s just what happens when MUST partners with Woodstock City Church.

WCC partners“This congregation has figured out a path to true community transformation,” Reighard continued. “They’re making a tremendous impact in Cherokee County and beyond by partnering with charities who know what they’re doing, but need the funds and volunteers to enable the optimal outreach.”

“Why reinvent the wheel?” asks the senior pastor at WCC, Gavin Adams. “The charities like MUST that we choose to support are already doing amazing things to help others. Through our annual Be Rich Campaign, we help fund and support existing programs and their dreams for the future.

“We vet non-profit partners like MUST to ensure they are operating with the highest level of excellence. We love MUST, because they know how to evaluate situations and respond accordingly.,” Adams explained. “We’ve found our churches in the North Point Ministries network can be most effective by collecting resources and supporting nonprofits. It doesn’t make sense for us to compete with them by offering similar services. We always choose to partner rather than pioneer when it comes to serving the community.”

“What an amazing blessing it is to have a church tell us to dream big with them,” Reighard said. “Last year, MUST’s Summer Lunch program provided 251,424 sack lunches to children on the free and reduced lunch program who have little to nothing to eat during the summer. We helped children in seven counties, including Cherokee, thanks to a gift from Woodstock City Church.”

WCC volsIn addition, the church gave money to reduce the food insecurity among students by supporting MUST’s school food pantry program, now in 24 schools. Hunger affects social behavior, grades, health, relationships and virtually every aspect of a child’s life, so MUST’s Save It Forward program uses couponing to help feed 330 families a month, including public schools and Kennesaw State University students in need who have children in the home.

A part of the grant money is designated to helping Cherokee residents with rent and utility assistance through MUST’s housing program. Providing housing stability by preventing homelessness in Cherokee is a MUST goal.

The charity receives more than 150 requests a month with little money to meet those tremendous needs. The nonprofit has been able to assist only 10 percent of the requests and the needs are continuing to grow. This funding will enable MUST to serve more than fifty percent of those requesting assistance, or five times the number previously served, a critical effort in preventing homelessness.

The Be Rich campaign actually extends through the year with numerous volunteer projects planned and scheduled. Woodstock City Church members have worked in partnership with MUST at the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen, Donation Center, Save It Forward Warehouse, MUST Marketplace thrift shop, MUST Toy Shops and the Cherokee Thanksgiving boxes project.

Additionally, a large food drive on Jan. 22 is expected to reap two truckloads of food for MUST’s 27 food pantries. “It’s a generosity that demonstrates their love for serving the Lord and serving others,” Reighard pointed out. The church has done these things in the past year, but have also connected with many other projects in the past.

“Those of us who work day in and day out to serve the poor are so encouraged when an organization comes along side of us and offers financial support and time. It blesses the clients, but it blesses the MUST team too. We know Woodstock City Church is ‘all in’. They’re with us. They care and they take action,” he said.

“Woodstock City Church is a servant leader in that they have set a path to make a difference in a unique way. They find out what God is already doing, then get in the middle of it. That’s a strategy that will radically change a community.”

– Kaye Cagle

MUST receives highest rating from Charity Navigator

MUST Ministries is again the honored recipient of a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, the watchdog organization’s highest distinction for dependability and excellence.

Charity Navigator logo blue

Charity Navigator is the nation’s largest and most-utilized charity evaluator, rating charities on a one-to-four scale based on their financial health, accountability and transparency.

According to Michael Thatcher, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, only a quarter of rated charities have achieved the four-star distinction.

“This is our highest possible rating and indicates that MUST adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way,” Thatcher wrote in a letter to MUST. “Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that MUST Ministries exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work.”

According to MUST’s latest financial reports, the organization spends 85 cents of every dollar on its program services providing those in need with food, housing, employment services and clothing. The remaining 15 cents goes toward a combination of development and administrative expenses.

“Donors want to know which charities to trust. This distinction demonstrates that MUST is among America’s most fiscally stable and efficient,” said MUST President and CEO Ike Reighard. “We take our stewardship role very seriously and are blessed to have served 30,000 people in need in the last year.” Eighty percent of MUST’s clients are women and children, he stated.

For more information about MUST’s dedication to ethics and transparency, visit www.mustministries.org, or visit MUST’s Charity Navigator page at www.charitynavigator.org.

MUST hotel-motel program adds bed capacity for homeless

The number of people struggling in homelessness locally is far greater than one facility can accommodate, and MUST Ministries is the only walk-up shelter in the area. To help overcome some of the bed shortage, MUST is launching an emergency motel lodging program addressing the challenge of families living in homelessness.

“In the past year, MUST has provided 67,416 safe nights of rest through our housing programs, including 829 people served in the Elizabeth Inn Shelter,” said Rachel Castillo, Vice President of Program Services. The 72-bed shelter accommodates two-parent families, single parents with children and single women and men. “You can imagine how difficult it is for larger families to find shelter if they require multiple beds,” Castillo stated. “Our family area stays at capacity.”

“Most people in our community are unaware of the tremendous need for both affordable housing and emergency housing.” — Rachel Castillo

Three motel programs at MUST are helping to ease some of the demand. In Cherokee County, families come to MUST’s Canton location for case management and employment services. They must pursue employment while using a hotel-motel voucher for a 30-day stay. The program targets the homeless in Cherokee and operates on a limited grant.

In Cobb, MUST has two motel programs available. The first houses families for two-day, weekend stays prior to meeting with case managers. Two motel rooms have been allocated for this purpose. The second option, an agreement with My Brother’s Keeper of St. Ann’s Catholic Church and St. Vincent de Paul of Transfiguration Catholic Church, offers multiple hotel rooms near MUST for up to a one week stay. This program also includes case management and three meals a day at MUST. Some meals can even be taken “to go” if the family wishes to return to their room.

“We are so encouraged by these housing options now available to families who are desperate to find help,” Castillo said. “Most people in our community are unaware of the tremendous need for both affordable housing and emergency housing,” she continued. “MUST is making progress in providing for more families, but we need further support.”

She said most hotel nights cost more than people think and that’s one reason their quantity is so limited. “The budget motels in the area can cost a family several hundred dollars a week and they simply do not have that much money when they’re trying to buy food, diapers, gas, shoes and other necessities.”

Anyone interested in supporting the housing program is encouraged to go to MUST’s web site or Facebook page and donate online.

MUST is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to helping people in poverty in eight counties of Metro-Atlanta. Last year, 34,000 people—including 22,000 children—turned to MUST for help and hope.

Gobble Jog benefits thousands of clients in need

little GJ runnerA perfect fall day played host to 9,500 runners and walkers raising money for their neighbors in need. More than $550,000 in corporate sponsorships, race fees and participant fundraising will help 30,000 people in poverty with groceries, housing, emergency shelter, hot meals, employment services, Summer Lunches, Toy Shop gifts and clothing.

The festive event featured costumes, music, a VIP area sponsored by Northwestern Mutual, photo booth, FISH radio personalities Kevin and Taylor and more.

“What a great morning to show our gratitude,” said Pres. and CEO Ike Reighard. “When thousands of people gather on Thanksgiving Day to help others, it’s one of the most meaningful events in the country.”

Check out our Gobble Jog photo album on Flickr!

Georgia Gives Day reaps record $30,444 for MUST

GGD smThanks to an amazing outpouring of support from MUST friends and family, the Nov. 17 statewide online giving day was a big success, exceeding the stretch goal of $25,000.

In addition to individual donations, MUST won several “power hour” contests with grant money for the most donors and added $4,000 to the total.

“Our supporters are changing lives,” said Ike Reighard, Pres. and CEO. “They know when they give to MUST that 85 cents on a dollar goes directly to programming. MUST is one of the most fiscally stable charities in the country and we are grateful to serve those in need.”

Employment expands with new team

Much of the poverty issue is related to a lack of employment opportunities and job training. MUST is devoted to helping people who are unemployed and underemployed find long-term solutions.

The Employment Specialists at MUST include Jeff Edwards (director), LaCreisha Griffin (Smyrna), Nate Marsh (Marietta/Canton) and Herb Sierra (Elizabeth Inn campus).

This team helps clients build resumes, identify skills, practice interview skills and conduct online job searches.

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From left: Jeff Edwards, LaCreisha Griffin, Nate Marsh and Herb Sierra.

The Widow’s Mite

At times, we receive questions about the clients we serve and occasionally assumptions are made … sometimes negative assumptions. If they truly knew our clients, they would realize many face mental health, physical health and life circumstance challenges we cannot imagine and would be hard-pressed to survive. Unfortunately, some clients are their own worst enemies, who through their attitudes or their choices have put themselves in hard places. Regardless of the challenges, we are called to serve them with respect, compassion and dignity.

Yesterday, something happened that typifies the great majority of those who seek our assistance. I went out to check our mailbox at the street and found a letter. It was a small envelope with a handwritten address and return address. I did not recognize the name, but recognized the address as a housing unit from the Canton Housing Authority. When I opened the envelope, there was no letter or note, but simply a folded dollar bill. When we checked our database, we discovered she was a MUST client who had last received services several years ago. I realized that she had offered a donation of what she could to say thanks for the meaningful services she received.

I was reminded of two things. First, the story of the widow’s mite from the Bible, where Jesus commented that the widow had given more than any other person because she had given all that she had. Second, I was reminded that the overwhelming majority of our clients are people just like me who have had some type of setback that puts them in need. It has taken every ounce of courage they have to come in and ask for help, braving embarrassment, shame, guilt and possible judgement. “I’ve never had to do this before,” they say. Our job is to give them acceptance, hope and the assurance that although we have all been in a position to give before, and that feels good, we all will someday have to ask for help. Our prayer is that we can help them through this setback to bring them back to the place where they can give again.

In this person’s case, our prayer was answered. We have clients who come in because they are in need of food, but will donate clothes that someone has outgrown. We witness countless acts of appreciation and kindness from our clients. I was touched by the simple generosity of this client’s dollar bill and reminded that the image of God is in each of our clients (and staff, donors and volunteers!). Some may reflect it more brightly than others, but we are all His workmanship.
Blessings,
Kendall

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