Churches Struggle To Help As Donations Fall As donations dwindle, Reverend Strong of the Anawim Community Church is struggling to take care of his rapidly growing population of needy parishioners. We visit the Portland, Ore. establishment to see how he's coping.
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Churches Struggle To Help As Donations Fall

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Churches Struggle To Help As Donations Fall

(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Here at Day to Day, we have a series we're calling The Real Economy, and we've been asking you to tell us how you're making it through these rough times. We got a note recently from the Reverend Jeff Strong. He's in Portland, Oregon, and he heads the Anawim Community Church, and he's here now. Welcome to the program.

Reverend JEFF STRONG (Anawim Community Church, Portland, Oregon): Thank you.

BRAND: So, you're there in Portland. Tell us who you serve there in your church. Who comes to see you?

Rev. STRONG: Primarily the poor, homeless, low income, mentally challenged, those that are on the bottom tier of society.

BRAND: And have you been seeing more people these days?

Rev. STRONG: Yes. The number - as the economy goes down, the congregation is growing.

BRAND: Now, I understand you have been in the ministry for almost three decades, and you've worked with mainly people in the most dire situations, in the most need. How would you compare the people who are coming in now to the people you've seen in the past?

Rev. STRONG: The people in the past have had hope of escaping their situation. Currently, there's the feeling that there is no hope because there's - it's affecting everybody.

BRAND: I wonder if there's someone who you've met recently, maybe someone who has come into your church for the first time, who struck you - someone who had a particularly touching story you could share with us.

Rev. STRONG: Well, there was a young woman and her daughter who were in a trash can behind my house, and I was playing in my compost pile at the time, and she - I heard this little boy say, have you found anything for us to eat yet, mommy? And I got them out of the can and fed them. And we got her off the street and into an apartment and hooked her up with some schooling for her child and some job training and a temporary placement - job placement for her.

BRAND: So that is one, I mean, success story, I suppose, out of many, many, many cases, I suppose, that don't end as positively. I mean...

Rev. STRONG: That's correct.

BRAND: There are a lot of people who are still homeless and without work in your area.

Rev. STRONG: There's a lot of families that are living out of their cars and - or vans. There's a lot of senior citizens that are living out of their cars because the cost of housing, and their pension's small, and then Medicare takes a big bite of that, and then their medication takes a bigger bite out of that, and they're just - they're frustrated.

BRAND: What about your church's financial situation? You're serving more people now. Do you have enough money, enough resources to serve everyone who comes through your doors?

Rev. STRONG: No, we don't, really. We're faith-based, and we get donations. And, you know, the congregation is also affected by the economy, and so, as the - and our outward - outside contributors are also being affected. So, as their finances dwindle, then they are less likely to give, and that's reflective. But we can do what we can do and - it's kind of unnerving.

BRAND: Mm hmm. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story today and those of the people who come to see you, and best of luck to you.

Rev. STRONG: You're welcome.

BRAND: That's Jeff Strong. He runs the Anawim Community Church in Portland, Oregon. And if you have a story you'd like to share with us, go to our blog. It's npr.org/daydreaming.

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