Hands-on ministry: FL Baptist association serving communities in need

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It took Michael Hilliard several years, mission trips and various jobs to realize God had different plans for his life.

After serving as a pastor and youth director, he realized there was something missing. That “something” was a step in another direction: serving people in need.

Today Hilliard is director of the Chipola Family Ministries at Chipola Baptist Association in Marianna, Florida, and he couldn’t be more satisfied with this work.

Chipola Association is a small group doing big things for the Kingdom, he said.

“This just shows you don’t have to be large in numbers to do great things,” Hilliard noted. “If a small association can care for people and meet their needs, a large association can do so much more.”

The ministry was started in 2003 by Coba Beasley, associational mission strategist for Chipola Association.

“When I accepted the position, the association was $59,000 in debt,” Beasley recalled.

Through his leadership the association opened a thrift store where people could choose clothing and household items at no cost — but they wouldn’t take items for free, he remembered. So instead of giving the merchandise away, the association started charging a quarter per item. It became known as “The Quarter Store.”

Word spread. People told their neighbors. There was no need to advertise. During the first year they took in $69,000, all in quarters, Hilliard said.

Organization is vital

Beasley’s organizational skills began to make an impact.

Chipola Family Ministry served 42,000 (including repeats) and distributed 570,000 pounds of food last year through their food pantry. They also have a large clothing and furniture distribution ministry, as well as paying electric bills and providing gas vouchers for those in need.

The association also provides two short-term housing units, called The Stopover House, for battered women. Last year they served 81 clients.

Hilliard said several women volunteer with the ministry and are in charge of paperwork.

Serving 32 clients daily requires a schedule and organization, Hilliard noted. People must telephone and register, and twice a month a drive-through provides free groceries. Through this assembly line process, 25,000 pounds of food is distributed per event.

Volunteers support ministry

Currently 41 churches support the Chipola Family Ministry.

Most are Baptist, but other denominations also contribute. People serving together and meeting the needs of the community builds camaraderie and a spirit of fellowship among area residents, Hilliard said.

Chipola College is available for those who plan on full-time Christian work, helping them learn how to manage a non-profit organization.

Volunteers serve in the food pantry, organizing and bagging food for distribution.

Chipola Family Ministries also offers a counseling center, and every client hears a gospel presentation.

Burdens are lifted

Local courts often refer people to the ministry for community service hours.

Hilliard shared the story of a woman who arrived every morning at 5:30 to work. There was no indication of a problem until Christmas that year, when she tried to commit suicide. She couldn’t purchase toys for her children and was depressed about her situation. Through counseling at the center, she turned her life around.

“People carrying a burden often come to the center looking for help,” Hilliard said. “Just like the woman who wanted to end her life; instead, she found help. She met Christ.”

Disaster relief

Chipola Association also has a warehouse that holds equipment and supplies ready for disaster relief. A kitchen unit can be taken on-site and provide up to 25,000 meals per day.

Hilliard and volunteers often are on the road to other locations; a recent trip took them to Tennessee. Sometimes the team packs up houses where the contents have been donated to Chipola Association. They are placed in a building from which those who need furniture or appliances can choose.

Hilliard believes God placed him with Chipola Family Ministries, to help make a difference in the lives of others.

By Carolyn Tomlin | The Baptist Paper

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