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Helping those in need

Main Street project for families
in crisis to be one-stop-shop

Group responds to criticism
of its location in business district

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(March 2009) – If all goes as planned by a group of non-profit organizations and local churches, a 70,000-square-foot building in downtown Madison, Ind., will soon become a place for people in crisis to get help.

602 W. Main St. building

Photo by Konnie McCollum

This building at 602 W. Main St. may
soon become a collaborative center
for social services, including a food
bank in the back of the building.

The Clearinghouse, 602 W. Main St., will be a central location for services and information for families that find themselves suddenly in crisis, organizers say. The coordinated effort comes at a time when many churches report a tremendous surge in families needing assistance for the first time. The building is owned in trust by the First Christian Church in Madison.
“The Clearinghouse would provide an exciting scope of services for people in need,” said Molly Dodge, Director of External Relations at River Valley Resources. The non-profit agency is the organizing principle of the collaborative effort. River Valley Resources helps people with employment training, grant writing, workforce development, risk management and other work-related issues.
The group has applied for a $40,000 planning grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The money will be used to hire a firm to evaluate the site. If that goes well, an implementation grant of up to $500,000 from the same agency will be applied for to rehabilitate the front interior of the building for office spaces and computer labs.
The office space can be used for service providers, whether they choose to locate in the building or offer services on some sort of regular schedule. Plans have also been made for a multi-purpose space for educational classes. A storage facility for food will be put in the back of the building.

Molly Dodge

Dodge

Dodge said the idea came about more than a year ago. Representatives of non-profit organizations, local churches, volunteer ministries, the county trustee system, and other agencies have been meeting together since February 2007 to create a common system that has the potential to meet the needs of residents in crisis. Families in chronic need would contact the “clearinghouse” for assistance and referral information. These and other services would be targeted to families just over the poverty line.
“More than 30 groups have come on board to support the plan,” said Dodge. “We all already share resources, and in this difficult time, increased collaboration will help stretch scarce resources.”
But not everyone is thrilled with the idea.
In December 2008, Seattle-based tourism marketing consultant Roger Brooks was hired by a consortium of local agencies to evaluate and present recommendations to the community on how to better market Madisonto tourists. For a fee of $50,000, Brooks has been working on a final “brand” that he is scheduled to present to the community at an April 1 forum. But during a similar forum held in early December in which he presented his “recommendations,” Brooks strongly urged the community to rethink the idea of establishing a “soup kitchen” on Main Street, right in the commerical district.
“That is not an image you want in the heart of your downtown shopping district,” said to a large audience at the Brown Gym.
He suggested it could be put in the back of the building or elsewhere in town.
“The Clearinghouse is not a soup kitchen,” Dodge said, responding to Brooks’ comments. “That was an unfortunate outcome because Brooks did not contact us before he spoke publicly about it.”
Greg Russell, pastor of the First Christian Church, said Brooks incorrectly spoke about the project. “We have seen a 60 percent increase in people coming to us for help. Other churches and agencies are reporting the same thing.”
He said most of the increase is first time people who have been holding things together but now find themselves in financial straits. “They shuffle in with their heads downs and are humiliated to find themselves in this position. They don’t know where to turn and what to do. It will be better for them if they have one central place to go to for all the help they need.”
North Madison Christian Church, 1400 E. State Rd. 62, is home to one of the largest food pantries in the area. Three days a week the church gives out food boxes to people in crisis. Once every six weeks, the church opens its large auditorium doors for a food giveaway. Hundreds of people have been showing up for the food giveaways, and those needing food boxes has exploded in recent months, especially since many of the area’s factories have laid off workers or seriously reduced their hours.
Ashley Schutte, an administrator at North Madison Christian Church, said her church is also excited about the Clearinghouse. “The new downtown center is not meant to replace existing efforts,” she said. “Instead, it is to help centralize social services and help direct people to where they can go to get further help.”

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