BLYTHEWOOD — Members of Transfiguration Church are reaching out to help needy people in one of the fastest-growing areas in the Midlands.
Blythewood, a town on the northern edge of Richland County, has experienced a huge population increase in the past decade. Outreach to the area’s needy, however, has not kept pace with the growth.
In response, members of Transfiguration met in July 2008 to organize the Social Outreach Ministry program.
Parishioner Stephanie Menges has been one of the main catalysts.
“Our parish has always been generous and willing to give to various collections and special fund-raisers, but we didn’t have a formal program,” Menges said. “I’m recently retired and suggested this could be a means to help the parish and the community. I really wanted to work on feeding the needy.”
Menges is a native of Panama, and said she developed a desire to help the poor after seeing how many people lived in poverty in that nation.
She works with fellow volunteer Marge Butler to coordinate the outreach efforts. They accept donations of money and food to help the needy in the parish and the community.
Once a month, outreach workers collect food donations and take them to Cooperative Ministry’s satellite office in Blythewood for distribution.
Cooperative Ministry is a faith-based program that helps the working poor, and includes members from many different civic groups and religious congregations throughout the Midlands. The satellite office operates two days a week from a building at Trinity United Methodist Church in Blythewood.
“Stephanie and others from Transfiguration have been wonderful,” said Anne Jackson, who volunteers with Cooperative Ministry. “They’ve stepped in and helped us when we’ve really needed it. They not only bring food, but also help serve the people who come by. We’ve seen an increase in the people we serve, and the extra help is important.”
Menges said working with the ministry gives Transfiguration members a chance not only to help the needy, but to spread awareness of the Catholic faith.
“We’re a minority here in Blythewood and in the Columbia area,” she said. “There are people in the Blythewood area who don’t even know our parish is here.”
During the Christmas season, Transfiguration hosted a Giving Tree with more than 300 ornaments. Each ornament had the name of a needy individual or family and a suggestion for a gift. Menges said the parish has sponsored a Giving Tree in previous years, but this one received the most generous response yet.
“We received more gifts than we had ornaments,” she said. “We gave them to Catholic Charities and God’s House on Wheels, a ministry in Columbia that ministers to the homeless.”
Children of the parish also are learning about the importance of giving. On the first Sunday of each month, people drop off canned goods and other non-perishable foods. The children bring the donations to the altar after Mass and receive a special blessing from Father Bernard ino Yebra, administrator.
The program’s first fund-raiser was a white elephant booth at the annual Christ Child Celebration on Dec. 6. Money from the booth went to the outreach program, and items that did not sell were donated to an area thrift shop that supports two halfway houses for people with substance abuse issues.
A group of new volunteers recently signed up for the outreach on Transfiguration’s Stewardship Sunday. Menges and Butler plan to have a meeting in February to brainstorm new ideas. One of the main goals is to help parishioners who are dealing with financial problems and might not have enough to eat.
“I hope to get volunteers to form a Casseroles for Crisis committee so that when families are in crisis, we can make sure family meals are there for them,” Menges said.
“There aren’t many outreach programs in this area,” Father Yebra said. “The work the volunteers are doing is needed now more than ever because of the economic crisis.”
Menges agreed. “As a Catholic and a Christian, I feel that I’m doing what God has asked me to do,” she said. “Whenever people thank us for helping them, I thank them for the opportunity to help them … I am always amazed at how truly impoverished folks are not greedy, and are concerned that there will be enough for the next person in need.”