Toledo Area Ministries has helped a lot of people in its 127 years, including more than 60,000 in 2012. Now the Christian faith-based organization needs some cash to help its own ministry.
The Rev. Steven Anthony, Toledo Area Ministries' executive director since 2007--”Most people here call me Pastor Steve,” he said—sent an emergency appeal letter dated Sept. 5 that said, in boldface type, “Toledo Area Ministries is currently facing a financial emergency where our immediate need is to raise funds for our operating expenses to support the programs that grants do not pay for.”
The nonprofit organization needs to bolster its core budget, Pastor Steve said, and hopes to bring in $30,000 so it can be in the black by the end of the year. That core is for expenses that cannot be paid for by grants, which have restrictions on how money is spent.
Toledo Area Ministries is doing fine with the grants it administers, Pastor Steve said, such as Keeping It Together, its largest grant program that especially helps people in marriages and relationships to improve their economic stability. Keeping It Together is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But a nonprofit organization cannot function well by grants alone. At Toledo Area Ministries, “We have grant-funded programs and we have programs that are strictly donation-based, and our donation-based programs are also hurting for money,” Pastor Steve said.
Feed Your Neighbor is one of those donation-based programs. It has been in operation for 39 years. In 2012 its food pantries supplied more than 78,000 people with food for their households, providing groceries for more than 700,000 meals. “All donations go 100 percent to food,” Pastor Steve said, “so we don't take anything off the top to run it.”
Pastor Steve said that Toledo Area Ministries' financial emergency came from “what I call triple convergence. Our donations were down in the first half of the year, and then there was a change in the way that we … were billing to some of our grants,” and for the third element, when Ohio's state budget year begins Toledo Area Ministries always receives some payments later than usual. That “tipped us over. It made us spend all of our cash,” he said.
Pastor Steve has been working in the social justice aspect of ministry for a long time, including writing grants for support. In Toledo, he was pastor of the Dorr Street Church of God for 13 years and then joined First Church of God working in two half-time positions, on the church's pastoral staff and as executive director of its social outreach ministries, which is a nonprofit organization separate from the church.
He said that the first successful grant he wrote was in 1987, for $50,000 from the state of Illinois for a teen center, but he said he “had to send the whole thing back because we didn't have the capacity to do what we had written. So that was a big lesson learned; fortunately, I had raised enough unrestricted cash for us to continue.”
Pastor Steve, who worked in sales earlier in his life, has a philosophy about raising funds for Toledo Area Ministries. “I read the stories, I hear the testimonies [of Toledo Area Ministries' effect on those it serves] and I just absolutely love what we do, so I'm not ashamed to ask anybody for anything, for their help. To me there's no shame in asking.” He continued, “Would I rather be doing direct service? Sure, but if we lack the resources to do direct service, then I'll wake up that day going, 'Who can I ask?'”
Toledoans are not accustomed to giving to Toledo Area Ministries, Pastor Steve said. At one time, the organization's support came mostly from denominational sources, for social justice work. But the denominations started thinking congregations should be doing that work, so those funds for Toledo Area Ministries lessened and Pastor Steve turned to the public.
“In the past five years there have been roughly 3,500 people that have given us something, whether it's $5 or $1,000,” he said. “We're not rich. In fact, we're cash poor, and while we may have a good number of grants, grants are never enough. At some point, grants become a self-defeating or diminishing thing.”
Pastor Steve wants to lessen the grant dependence. “We're 87 percent grant dependent; that's terrible. We shouldn't be over 50 percent. We've got some work to do, and I just want people to know we need cash to be able to do the work that we do and change the lives that we're changing.”
His metaphor for his life-changing ministry is not an umbrella that covers many programs that help people and make for social justice. Pastor Steve's image is a flower box.
“The flower box provides the foundation and nutrition for programs to grow up out of,” he said. “It's important that the flower box be strong, it's important that the flower box have a lot of nutrition in it, it's important that the flower box be flexible enough to support things as they happen." translated to money, that means having cash at hand rather than waiting for a grant.
Then with ready cash, Pastor Steve can look to service."I really want to focus on life transformation," he said. "I want to tell life-transformation stories. The letters and the phone calls we get about people's lives who have changed brings me to tears just about every time I read them. These are people that were hurting, who had given up, they had lost hope, and somehow they encountered us.
“All the services that are brought to bear in that person's life, along with the help of God, people's lives change. I want to be there, to be part of their circle for their life to change. I want our programs to be there, and the only way that's going to happen is if we do better on the fund-raising side. So I guess I'm announcing to the world, to the Toledo world, here we are and we're going to raise some money.”
For more information about Toledo Area Ministries or to make a donation, go to www.tamohio.org, call 419-242-7401, or send a letter to TAM at 3043 Monroe St., Toledo, OH 43606.