Jay Shephard knew local churches could do good on their own, but realized they could do so much better by working together.
That’s why he started the Faith Alliance of West Chester and Liberty Township, a non-profit comprised of 22 local Christian churches that “collaborate, share resources and ideas, coordinate service events and strive to promote the well-being of their neighbors.”
The idea stemmed from an area woman Shephard knew who was already well below the poverty rate before her husband died and left her with even more diminished financial means and a family to support.
“This poor woman, she called me up … and said ‘Jay, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to turn.’ I spent some time with her and found out … forget about churches, social organizations, they don’t talk to each other,” he said. “You think our government’s screwed up, these non-profits, they compete with each other, too.”
Shephard, after leading a two-week effort that raised $13,000, realized he needed to find a way for organizations to talk with one another and decided to start with churches with the sole purpose of serving those in need.
That, so far, has translated into helping and hosting numerous programs. Faith Alliance first partnered with Faith Community United Methodist Church to bolster Stepping Forward, a Tuesday evening church program that provides dinner and free services to help equip families with the skills and knowledge they need to move their lives forward. To do so, Faith Alliance made it a signature project.
“What that means is to be a part of the Faith Alliance, you have a requirement to serve, so that’s exactly what happened,” Shephard said.
Subsequent projects included annual food drive Feed Our Neighbor in Need, a summer lunch ministry and a Monday evening community supper signature project with West Chester Presbyterian Church.
“We are an enabling organization,” Shephard said. “We take great ideas and we make them bigger.”
Lynda O’Connor helped Faith Alliance found and cultivate Faith Alliance Community Care Caucus or FAC3, a collaborative of different organizations that enlists a large network of support from community, government, business, school and chuch leaders to do thing such as serve food to economically disadvantaged children and their families.
Earlier this month, Faith Alliance partnered with Reach Out Lakota for a backpack ministry that ended up with not only 215 school-supply-filled backpacks for the organization to distribute to local schools, but also 40 to 50 extra backpacks and a plethora of school supplies.
Sue Mahlock, director of outreach, said the group formed the ministry in support of Reach Out Lakota’s back-to-school program.
“I think it was a great success,” Mahlock said. “We collected (on) three Sundays in July and Hillandale Communities was kind enough to offer their van and a staff member to go around and pick up all the backpacks and school supplies from all of our churches and deliver them to Reach Out Lakota so they could be organized and given out to the kids.”
The backpack ministry, much like Faith Alliance itself, is all about loving one’s neighbor and taking care of them, Mahlock said.
“There are several hundred children that come from families in Lakota who just don’t have enough to get by and we feel that not only is it important to feed their bodies, but to feed their minds,” she said. “It’s important for them to have a good, positive outlook on their life, so giving them to the tools they need to succeed in school was really important to us.”