Throughout the pandemic, United Methodist Human Services of Johnstown has continued its ministry and stepped up to help people navigate getting the services they need for housing and utility security, as well as offering direct financial assistance through their Bridges to Success and Emergency Financial Assistance programs. In 2020, meeting needs during the pandemic required a significant shift for UMHS.
In recent years, UMHS had scaled back its emergency financial assistance program, redirecting resources to Bridges to Success, which equips participants with the tools and support needed to break the cycle of poverty. With the pandemic shutdowns and job losses, the need for direct financial help soared, said Cheryl Bedick Keafer, UMHS executive director.
"There was so much need we couldn't NOT help," she said, citing increased need especially for people who might be without a home or in transition. The need for baby formula and supplies, hygiene kits and especially emergency food supplies.
"We have the second largest food pantry in Cambria County, and in the first 10 weeks of the pandemic we provided a year's worth of emergency food supplies, she explained. That had more than doubled by the fall. To serve its regular clients, the pantry had to distribute food outdoors for a time, with additional volunteers needed to replace those unable to serve during the pandemic.
Launched after the 1977 Johnstown flood, UMHS is an outreach of the churches of the Johnstown District and serves all of Cambria county and adjoining parts of Somerset, Bedford, and Indiana counties. Its mission is “Sharing the love of Jesus Christ by alleviating suffering and injustice faced by those with spiritual, emotional, and material needs.”
But, as Keafer points out, "Our work is more than social service, it is the hands and heart of Christ for those who struggle."
In a recent letter she encouraged churches and pastors in the Johnstown District to refer or connect those in need to UMHS. She listed the ongoing programs of the agency, which include: