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Volunteering and community service are often driven by a passion for connecting with and helping others. Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) embodies this spirit by transforming the concept of service into a well-established organization that creates lasting relationships with those they help. ABCCM is a coalition of non-denominational churches with a volunteer base of over 300 people who are dedicated to addressing the needs of their neighbors. Through seven different ministries, ABCCM has served over 30,000 people in Buncombe County since their founding in 1956.
Always looking for new ways to support the community, ABCCM was excited to join the Healthy Opportunities Pilot (HOP).
“We felt like HOP was a good fit for some of the services we were already providing,” said Mary Messarra, Crisis Ministry Director. “It gave us an opportunity to be more intentional with Medicaid recipients and help them with food, housing, and resources to fill their gaps.”
ABCCM began providing food services to HOP participants in March 2023 and added housing services three months later. They currently have 973 active referrals. As demand for HOP services grew, ABCCM used HOP capacity building funds to hire five housing navigators and six food navigators who focus on connecting HOP clients with the services they need. These navigators play a crucial role at ABCCM by screening clients for HOP eligibility and identifying pilot services that can help them meet their needs. Navigators can also connect clients with other ABCCM ministries and services.
“The crisis ministry is a team of very dedicated volunteers and staff supported by our many churches in the community that want to make a difference,” Mary said. “That is seen every day in how our volunteers and staff care for those with critical needs.”
The difference is already being felt by families like Erica’s.
Erica reached out to ABCCM when she was facing a challenging time. Her family was unhoused and living out of their car. With not enough money to care for their teenage daughter, Erica made the difficult decision to send her to live with a relative while she and her husband tried to secure stable housing. After Erica enrolled in HOP, ABCCM volunteers and housing navigators were able to find a house that met her family’s needs. Erica was able to bring her daughter home, and the family was able to celebrate Christmas together.
“Every family that we help, whether it’s with the food boxes or housing, they all have a unique story and come to us with a lot of experience and challenges in their lives,” Mary said. “We feel that it’s an honor to walk alongside them in this season, that might not be one of their best seasons, but it’s a blessing and honor to do that.”
Food and housing navigators partner with volunteers to make sure each client gets personalized services. The help they are bringing to the community is unmatched. On average, ABCCM’s HOP navigators receive over 50 referrals a day like Crystal’s.
Crystal came to ABCCM when she was struggling to afford groceries. Recently divorced, she was finding it difficult to re-enter the workforce. Crystal had been living for months with the fear that she would not be able to feed her children. After qualifying for HOP, ABCCM’s food navigator made a referral for healthy food boxes, which Crystal now receives each week.
“I went to ABCCM hoping to get some help because I had heard I could go there for food,” Crystal said. “A volunteer told me about this new program called HOP. It was like a miracle from God.”
For the first time in a while, food is something that brings Crystal and her family comfort, not fear.
“I no longer have to ask the kids to hold off when they are hungry,” she said. “Now I have the confidence that I have the support I need, and we will survive.”
–Mary Messarra, Crisis Ministry Director, ABCCM