MACC Charities: helping people get back on their feet
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Mar. 1, 2013
For 40 years, when people in the Manchester area have fallen into hard times, they have turned to the Manchester Area Conference of Churches, or MACC Charities. The impact MACC has had is enormous: 1,300 people are served by its food pantry every month, up to 150 have a meal at its kitchen on any given day, about 500 people stay at the shelter a year, and 1,200 people receive clothing donations from the thrift store. But the people who run the nonprofit are not in the business of handing out entitlements, as MACC Executive Director/CEO Beth Stafford would say, they are "no bleeding hearts.”
“We’re pretty tough,” said Stafford. “We expect people to get back on their feet.” This expectation stems from the original purpose of MACC – to provide a temporary safety net for those in an emergency. The expectation also does something else: “I truly believe that people live up to or down to what you expect, and I expect them to get better,” she said. “When you expect that, it gives hope to those who need you.” It is not about giving a handout, but a hand up.
MACC was founded in the 1970s, when 14 Christian faith groups from Manchester ad Bolton came together to serve the people of their community in an organized way. They formed MACC as a human services arm of their ministries. Today, there are 38 churches total, including churches from South Windsor, Glastonbury and Storrs. The organization celebrated its 40th birthday on Jan. 19.
“If you lost your job and were going to lose your house, MACC would step in and help,” said Stafford. Generally, someone who has suddenly lost their income will put home or rental payments at the top of their priority list to avoid being evicted. As a result, the first cuts are to the food budget. MACC opens up its kitchen and pantry to these people so that they can focus on keeping their homes during their time of struggle.
Additionally, MACC provides many programs to help people cope with their struggles. It offers classes where chefs from the local community or the University of Connecticut extension program give talks on nutrition. MACC also hosts cooking classes which teach how people can eat healthily even on a budget.
MACC also puts people in touch with programs or resources that are available to them, which they may not already have known about. And because many parents going through difficult times are anxious about continuing to provide fun activities for their children, MACC will educate them on the many programs the town of Manchester provides that families can take advantage of, such as borrowing movies at the library or free events on Main Street.
A common misconception is that the people MACC helps are homeless people who brought their misfortunes on themselves, Stafford said. And while MACC does help some people who are a product of their own poor choices, Stafford said the majority of those helped are struggling by no fault of their own, either due to mental illness, physical illness, or the unexpected loss of a job.
For those in need, their situation is frightening, frustrating and filled with uncertainty. From her perspective, however, Stafford "can see the cavalry coming in.”
“People are here that want to help you,” she said. “We’re here by the grace of the community to help.”
The community is vital to MACC's success. While it has some state contracts and is partnered with the town of Manchester and United Way, it is the individual donors that carry the nonprofit through. MACC's operations are made possible by 75 to 100 volunteers (there are only 13 full-time staff members and some per diem workers). These volunteers and staff members are incredibly dedicated – even during the February blizzard, MACC's doors were open. Other organizations in town also support MACC's work. For example, Manchester Community College has a community garden which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the kitchen and pantry. “It’s many hands that make light work,” Stafford said.
Time and time again, Stafford sees that some of the most dedicated benefactors of MACC are people who MACC once helped. She recalls one woman who was helped by MACC years before, who now faithfully gives donations every month. “She’ll always tell us, ‘You were here when I needed you, I have enough, I want to do this for people who need me now.’”
A formerly homeless man who was once helped by MACC now owns his own landscaping business. He gives $500 every Christmas.
For Kevin and Susie McGuire, MACC has been an invaluable support during their difficult time. Susie lost her job as a preschool teacher in the spring of last year. Kevin was a truck driver for Staples until 2000, when, while on the job, he slipped and fell off the back of a box truck and injured his neck. “After a series of operations, they basically called me and told me I was fired, because I couldn't come back to work,” Kevin said.
Kevin will occasionally use MACC's pantry, which helps relieve the family of grocery bills. “They're the lifeboat,” Kevin said. He can rely on MACC to help them in unexpected situations, like when the car breaks down. “In our circumstance, you can't afford for the car to break down,” he said.
Susie is getting her master’s degree in human services. During their difficult experiences, Kevin and Susie have been inspired by people like Stafford or Dale Doll, program director of emergency food services at MACC. “I wish more services were run by people like that,” Kevin said. “They know what services are needed, where they're needed, and you don't have to fill out 300 forms for them to figure it out.” For those requesting assistance from the state, it can take weeks to hear a reply, he said.
“Some people don't have weeks,” Kevin said. “That's where the Manchester Area Conference of Churches has really filled in a hole, and they know how to do it.”
Kevin also firmly believes in MACC's expectation of getting better. He has an inside joke when he says goodbye to Doll: “I hope I never see you again!”
Stafford said that while MACC is composed of Christian faith groups, other faith organizations, including Jews, Muslims and Unitarians, will help as well. While you do not need to have any belief to work at MACC or use its services, Stafford herself is able to live out her faith through her involvement. And many people have been rescued because of it. Stafford tells the story of when she gave the town manager a tour of MACC. “He said, ‘Every community needs a MACC,’” Stafford said.
MACC Charities is located at 460 Main St., in Manchester. For more information about making donations or volunteering, call 860-647-8003 or visit macc-ct.org.