Local Churches Take on Persistent Poverty

Abandoned Central State across the road from Chard Wray Food Pantry

A Movement, or a Building

Due to a lack of resources and low housing income, the Milledgeville community finds itself in a fight with poverty. And local churches are attempting to combat the poverty by serving alongside one another as they look to fulfill the needs presented to them by community members seeking help.

But with a city that has 46.2 percent of its residents living in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau, local area churches are finding relief is a slow process.

While area churches are tackling poverty in a variety of ways, pastors and religious leaders agreed on one thing: poverty exists in Milledgeville.

“Absolutely,” said pastor of First Baptist Milledgeville, Jerry Bradley.

Bradley recognizes that poverty has ingrained itself into the Milledgeville culture. And he sees the immediacy of the need to combat poverty as it is no stranger to his ministry.

“The needs that are caused by poverty are brought to our doors by various people who are hurting. For two or three weeks, we will have people come seeking help everyday and then not at all,” Bradley said concerning how often he sees poverty at work.

Those who come to First Baptist are often seeking financial assistance to pay bills they are behind on, or to purchase food. While First Baptist is not always able to cover every financial need due to financial restrictions, they still do what they can for those hurting financially.

“We do have those come to us who are in need of financial assistance and we have helped. Even though we may not be able to cover every expense, we do what we can to assist those in need,” Bradley said.

First Baptist Milledgeville also provides assistance through giving of time and resources. One of the main venues they donate through is the Chard Wray Food Pantry.

“Our church members consistently give to the food pantry and are even willing to sacrifice their time to volunteer at the food pantry,” said Bradley.

The food pantry is not the only donation venue that the church uses to give back to the community. They also prepare and send off what are known as blessings bags.

“One of the greatest things we get to do as a church is blessings bags. Children who receive these bags of foods are ones who have been identified by the school system as children in need, basically children who may not be getting fed outside of school,” said Bradley. “So this is a consistent opportunity for our church to step in and provide.”

First Baptist Milledgeville

Bradley reiterated that these children had previously been identified by the school system, not the church. With the children being identified by government then provided for by the church, blessings bags are just a small example of church and state tackling poverty together.

“It’s a partnership that seems to be working,” Bradley said about the partnering of First Baptist and the school system through blessings bags. “We see blessing bags being maintained.”

It’s clear that Bradley and his congregation are making strides to serve the surrounding community’s needs, even if they are not seen by the public eye. Bradley points out that he doesn’t lead his church to be recognized, but rather to see change.

“I hope we can show the compassion and mercy of Christ,” said Bradley. “I hope that as we care for the body, we’ll open the window to care for the soul.”

Associate Pastor at First Baptist, Phil Bishop, echoes the sentiment that giving goes far beyond what’s given, and has more to do with the relationship that is built.

“It’s more about making personal contact and not just providing a meal,” said Bishop. “We want go beyond that and form a relationship that leads to lasting impact.”

Other side of town

New City Church Milledgeville is a church plant off Log Cabin Rd. and is well known among local college students and families. Pastor here, Andy Blankenship, also immediately recognized that poverty is indeed something that faces the local community.

“Our city, like every city, has a section of town,” Blankenship said in regards to where he sees poverty most in Milledgeville. “In Milledgeville, it’s the south-side.”

Run down home, refined to its shell and base structure

South-side is known as a concentrated area of poverty because it’s where most of the Milledgeville Housing Authority’s living units, otherwise known as projects, are located. The projects are an area where New City likes to focus their relief efforts for those who are struggling, especially during the holiday season.

“Around this time of year, we look to provide gifts and food for families that we know are hurting whether it be because of finances or falling on hard times,” said Blankenship.

Holiday efforts are important, but poverty is still striking long after the Christmas season. Much like First Baptist Milledgeville, New City has a more focused effort through which they consistently give.

“We have multiple MC’s that collect food for the soup kitchen. Our partners also volunteer there too,” Blankenship said about New City’s involvement with the local soup kitchen.

The MC mentioned above is otherwise known as a “Missional Community” group. These are what are more conventionally known on the church world as small groups, but New City calls them MC’s because of the missional mindset they want to have as a ministry on impacting the community around them.

While Bradley recognized a beneficial partnership between First Baptist and the school system, Blankenship isn’t as quick to realize any form of partnership between New City and local government.

“I feel like it’s independent because of the separation of church and state,” said Blankenship about the divide between church and state. “We’ve never been asked for help from the city.”

With a city that is struggling with such a high poverty rate it is a wonder as to why it wouldn’t reach out to all of the local churches to serve Milledgeville as much as possible. But Blankenship believes that progress, no matter how little, is still a step closer to helping those in need.

“I don’t think we’ll see the end of poverty by the hands of New City, but every bit helps. With the hope we have in Christ, we’ll encourage our partners to serve and give as many little bits as possible,” Blankenship said, recognizing the line between blissful optimism and reality.

A Stone’s Throw Away

St. Stephens Episcopal Church, which is only half of a mile away from First Baptist Milledgeville, is another local church that is actively looking to aid those who are impoverished. Being the eighth oldest Episcopal Church in the state and having been in Milledgeville since 1832, the congregation at St. Stephens has seen the poverty unfold and increase.

“We can tell the need in the community by the number of people that come to the church seeking assistance,” Father David Probst of St. Stephens said about the blatant need for help in the community.

Much like First Baptist Milledgeville, St. Stephens provides for locals who come to their doors seeking financial aid and basic needs. But Probst recognizes their platform of giving must expand along with the demands of increasing poverty.

“When they come, it’s often beyond our capacity to help. My hope is that we could pull resources and have a broader impact,” said Probst.

A vital resource to the community that Probst hopes to see expand is the Chard Wray Food Pantry which St. Stephens founded. The pantry is another opportunity for ministries to serve together as multiple local churches, including First Baptist and New City, donate time and resources to the community through the food pantry.

Chard Wray Food Pantry on a brisk morning before serving locals in need

“We’ve increased to the point where we provide for about 300 households every month. Within the next year, we plan on setting up an advisory board with other churches,” said director of Chard Wray, Emily Youngblood. “We look forward to partnering with other churches and expanding our services to other areas through those relationships.”

One way Probst hopes to gain more influence in the community is by partnering with local Baldwin County Fire Chief, Troy Reynolds, so that St. Stephens could help families who have been displaced by fires. And Probst wants to partner with other ministries such as local Flipper Chapel to increase their impact on local poverty.

“On Saturdays we host a lunch with Flipper Chapel for those in the community who need it. We hope to grow relationships with local neighborhoods and help them realize the resources they have to help themselves,” said Probst. “Change is going to come in empowering people one neighborhood at a time.”

Another local ministry that reflects the desire for change is First Presbyterian Church of Milledgeville. First Presbyterian runs a food pantry within its church building with hopes that more than just food is being given.

“We provide for low-income families in the area through giving them food bags filled with nonperishable items, but we hope to truly help those in need far beyond just providing resources,” said First Presbyterian volunteer, Becky Henderson.

Even though poverty still seems to have a foothold in the Milledgeville community, it is clear that local churches are not just standing idly by. And ministries seek to build relationships with each other and local residents in need so that their giving could go far beyond just providing resources, but could possibly have an eternal impact.

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