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Work Together to Survive Economy

SUMMARY: Times are tough. Now is an excellent time to further your church's role in reaching out to those who are struggling-including members of your congregation.

Your congregation is feeling the impact of the economic downturn. Whether members have lost jobs, been furloughed without pay or seen retirement funds depleted, they are cutting back and cutting out. Some may need assistance for the first time in their lives and are hesitant to ask.

Draw on the strength of your church, gathering resources to show the congregation is in this bad economy together.

Offer a free meal.
Encourage congregational interaction and host a potluck (pitch-in or covered-dish depending on your regional vernacular). Time it to be at the end of the month. Many who receive unemployment or Social Security assistance find it hardest to make ends meet right before their next check arrives. Perhaps the church can provide the main dish and others can bring sides and desserts. No one should be required to bring food-though those who can certainly will.

Forget cash. Barter.
Set up a network where people can exchange their skills at no cost. One member might work in human resources. Another might be unemployed and have the skills to care for children. The two might trade services-the human-resources person can advise on resume writing, while the unemployed person can care for his or her children for an evening. Perhaps a gardener who has surplus produce might trade some of his vegetables for a few computer lessons from a teenager whose family is struggling financially.

Host an evening at your church to kick off the barter network. Ask participants to list all talents they are willing to share. Use your church bulletin and Web site as depositories for this information so people can connect on their own.

Take advantage of food banks.
Investigate whether your region has a central food bank where charities can "shop" at significantly discounted rates and distribute the food in their communities.

If your congregation is not able or ready to establish a food-distribution program, collect canned goods and other non-perishables to donate to the nearest food pantry. Many of these sites rely on church donations for ongoing support. Some of your congregation members may receive from the food pantry.

Find support groups.
Does your community have a support group for the unemployed? Such groups provide emotional support, along with tips on writing a resume, presenting a professional image, exchanging job leads and networking.

Encourage volunteer opportunities.
Volunteering often leads to jobs, particularly with large firms and nonprofit agencies. Urge persons who are temporarily unemployed to seek volunteer opportunities to help themselves while helping others.

Enlist youth.
Unemployment is hitting the teen population as well. Involve younger church members by asking them to assist (and help build their college applications/resumes at the same time). Recruit a group of teen volunteers to babysit after school one or two days a week. Parents can use the service without charge-allowing them to apply for jobs, attend an interview or work on their resume without the added concern of how to pay for childcare.

Show appreciation.
Acknowledge the good work your congregation is doing. Mention it in worship services, contact local media with a specific example, and write about it in your church bulletin and newsletter. Good will is contagious. The more you talk about the good being done, the more good will be done.