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Interfaith initiative: Helping those in need essential across religions

Sylvia Neely
Sylvia Neely

On the fourth Tuesday of every month, representatives from 32 congregations in Centre County get together to talk about helping their neighbors. These faith communities make up Interfaith Human Services, an organization that has been providing assistance to people in need in Centre County for 47 years. IHS has grown from a handful of congregations to become an important institution that provides essential services to many people in our community.

Many families would have trouble getting through the winter without the help of the Fuel Bank, which IHS administers. Funded by gifts and grants, the Fuel Bank provides emergency heating assistance to people throughout the county. This program depends on the support of St. Vincent de Paul, the United Way, Marcellus Shale extraction fees and the County Commissioners. But it mostly works because of generous donations from individuals who want to be sure their neighbors stay warm during the cold weather.

Many people may know about the Free Furniture Exchange. Our truck picks up donated furniture that is then distributed to qualified families from our warehouse at the Nittany Mall.

Just as important, though less known, are programs to help people manage their money efficiently. IHS also administers a grant from the county to prevent homelessness through rental assistance. Our most recent initiative (in cooperation with the Veterans Multi-Service Center) is to provide budgeting workshops to veterans in central Pennsylvania who need help in securing employment and permanent housing.

The work of our board of representatives is essential for ensuring that Interfaith Human Services remains strong and committed to helping our neighbors in need. Our meetings are held at a different congregation every month. Although we simultaneously learn about the variety of ways of worship and organization that different faiths embody, the purpose of our meetings is not to expand our own knowledge or to worship together, but to provide for the needs of our neighbors. Lively discussion and sharing ideas and suggestions help forge a sense of community. The dedicated people who carry out this unheralded work do so because helping the poor is an essential part of what their faiths teach them. We share a firm understanding of the importance of working together toward this purpose.

IHS manages to do a great deal with a small, dedicated and professional staff because we benefit from the support of the community. This time of year, Interfaith Human Services runs the Wishing Well Campaign, our primary fundraiser. You may have seen people ringing bells in front of Meyer Dairy, The Corner Room or the Benner Pike Wal-Mart. Please give generously at our wishing wells or online at www.ihs-centrecounty.org. Your continued support will make it possible for us to fulfill the mission of IHS: “Communities of faith collaborating to help neighbors in need.”

Sylvia Neely is board chairwoman of Interfaith Human Services (interfaith@ihs-centrecounty.org), where she represents University Baptist and Brethren Church. A retired history professor, she also serves as group leader of the State College chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and participates in activities of Interfaith Initiative Centre County.

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