07/07/11 — Financial challenges plague MERCI Center

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Financial challenges plague MERCI Center

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 7, 2011 1:46 PM

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Volunteer Erin West shows a piece of baby clothing to Footprints program coordinator Becky Minchew at the MERCI Center while sorting through children's clothes to give to local needy families. The facility, which helps people in need and provides disaster relief, is scheduled for closure at the end of the summer.

Although volunteers at the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives in Rosewood said the center's Footprints summer camp is bigger and better than ever, MERCI's financial hardships have become too much to ignore.

After almost 11 years of mission work and disaster response, MERCI will close Aug. 7, officials said Wednesday.

Bob Pavone, MERCI's general manager, said the center, which relies on private donations, just doesn't have the funds to keep up its work.

"Donations appear to be coming up, but it's not to the point that we can be self-sufficient," Pavone said.

He said the state Conference of the United Methodist Church is trying to decide what to do next about the center.

Pavone said the first step is to disburse all the supplies and products at MERCI to people who need it, or to other mission groups. Eventually, he said the conference might set up smaller satellite locations where MERCI could operate -- although possibly under a different name.

But since the MERCI center in Rosewood is strategically placed two hours from the coast, Pavone said it's unclear where other locations might be.

He added that the conference is thinking of moving the Footprints summer camp to three different Methodist camps -- Rockfish Camp in Parkton, Camp Don Lee in Arapahoe and Chestnut Ridge Camp near Chapel Hill.

No matter what, he said, volunteers will continue to help people in need.

"The disaster relief will not go away," he said.

And with hurricane season coming up, Pavone said it's important to make any decisions regarding MERCI quickly so volunteers can be ready for any disasters that might occur.

"We have the wherewithal to react to (disasters)," he said. "That's why it's important to move rapidly to disperse this product."

Although Pavone said he hopes MERCI closing might be a red alert to potential donors, any donations now might be too little, too late.

"It takes a disaster to bring attention to the MERCI center," he said, but he added, "It will be missed."

Some volunteers, though, aren't ready to give up.

"I think there's too many of God's hands here for it to close," said Becky Minchew, coordinator of the Footprints program. "God has a plan for everybody."

Under Ms. Minchew's leadership, Pavone said the Footprints program has blossomed and become more focused on training youths for mission work.

"It does take a certain personality to make that happen and she's got it," he said.

Ms. Minchew said she loves passing on her passion for helping people.

"My children, they love getting involved and giving back," she said. "I got bit hard by the bug. I wanted more, more, more."

Ms. Minchew said she plans to go to Haiti in a few weeks to pass out beans and rice to hungry families and orphans. She and the Footprints groups have been holding weekly car washes to raise money for the food.

Aside from Haiti, the Footprints groups also send supplies to countries such as Liberia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Last week, she was working with a church group from Fort Wayne, Ind., and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Protestant Youth Ministries to bring clothing and cleaning supplies to Goldsboro's less fortunate.

"I saw a kid in the dumpster in downtown Goldsboro the other day and it just broke my heart," Ms. Minchew said.

Pavone said it's that kind of compassion that drives the mission work at MERCI.

"I won't give up until the last minute," he said, talking about how last-minute donations could save MERCI.

Pavone said the state Conference of the United Methodist Church will decide where to send all the products at MERCI by July 31.