Roughly a decade ago, Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County board members wanted to address some of the needs among those who served in the military. “We noticed an increase in vets accessing food in our emergency food bank and it became clear those who had served and protected us needed care themselves,” said Roger Reece, executive pastor at Associated Churches.
A few years later, a team from Associated Churches started to prepare Thanksgiving meals for military families with a mother or father deployed. Those efforts continued to expand and a ministry was born – the Military Families Ministry of Associated Churches, providing holiday meals to military personnel in need of assistance. Now roughly 200 holiday meals are assembled in boxes with all the ingredients necessary for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.
With more and more soldiers returning home, the ministry expanded to help with emergency housing, reintegration to civilian life, job placement and general advocacy working closely with local military units to provide hardship support for personnel and their families within these units. Last year Associated Churches served 167 military families. “Commonly we provide gas cards and emergency relief, assistance in finding employment, financial support to prevent utility disconnections, as well as other emergency needs. We also provide emergency food relief for military families,” Reece said.
During the Christmas season, additional blessings are shared as volunteers and businesses assist in donating gifts to families who are stressed emotionally and financially. Auxiliary pastors are also recruited when unit chaplains need backup. In 2013, Associated Churches was recognized as the Indiana National Guard Families and Service Members Community Organization of the Year and was awarded the Top Service Agency Award for all of Indiana.
As a former Army chaplain, the military has always been close to Reece’s heart. “I appreciate the struggles our service members go through. My wife was an Army nurse and our son is a member of the 293rd Indiana National Guard. Our family has real compassion for those serving,” he said. “Helping military families through difficult times is very rewarding because I’ve been there; I know the feeling when utility disconnection is a real possibility. I’ve seen soldiers cry when the financial stress is relieved and they can go be soldiers without worrying about their family sitting in a home with the utilities disconnected.”
Today Roger’s son, Rob, is coordinating the Military Families Ministry. “We want to work with our local military and all our local units to connect them to the resources in our member congregations. Together we can work to provide more long-term solutions in areas such as employment, transportation and childcare. Our role would be to connect civilian resources in our congregations with the current military resources to develop a “streamlined” continuum of care for the service member and their families. The faith community is in a very special place to support our military families, and we want to do everything we can to carry out our mission of showing Christ’s love to our neighbors,” he said.
When asked about the impact of this ministry, Connie S. Douthat, 122nd Fighter Wing Airmen and Family Readiness Program Manager, said, “We are able to give gas cards to get to a family gathering, and the meal that is provided by Associated Churches gives them a way to contribute to the larger meal at the celebration,” she said. “Assistance only goes so far. The fact is if it wasn’t for Associated Churches, some families wouldn’t have a Christmas.”
As part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas Spirit, the Military Families Ministry is, once again raising funds in an effort to assemble 200 meals to be distributed to members of the 122nd Fighter Wing, the 293rd Infantry Regiment, 394th MP Co Army Reserve and local veteran shelters.
Article by Shelley Galbreath, Feature Writer
The Military Families Ministry of Associated Churches provides
holiday meals to military personnel in need of assistance and
those with a mother or father deployed. Roughly 200 holiday meals are
assembled in boxes with all the ingredients necessary
for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.
Help is needed to continue the impact of this ministry. Opportunities
include adopting a military family at Christmas, covering the
cost of food boxes at $38.50 per box, providing gas cards, and helping
with financial resources for service members in hardship situations.
Call the Associated Churches office at (260) 422-3528 or email Rob
Reece at Rob@associatedChurches.org if you are interested in helping.