Ministry gears up for a season of helping

Robert Rufa

Winter at the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry starts off a convergence of frenetic activity before winter arrives, as if the year saves up all its excitement for one season. That’s not to say it’s slow the rest of the year — it’s just that there’s so much going on right now.

It begins with preparing for the winter heating season, which is actually perpetual.

“We receive donations earmarked for the heating fund all throughout the year,” said ministry director Renae Brame. “And when Nov. 1 rolls around, clients are already lining up at the door in the morning for help with their bills.”

However people heat their homes, the ministry tries to help — everything from arranging for the delivery of propane, heating oil, kerosene - even firewood - to covering parts of electric and gas bills. A large part of funding for heating comes from the federal government and is disbursed through the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, Brame said.

Last year there was a slight cut to funding, and the ministry had to make up the difference as best it could through donations. “We don’t know what to expect yet this year,” Brame added.

It’s not just heating that people need help with in the colder months. The demand for clothing rises, as does the demand for food from the ministry’s pantry.

“For a variety of reasons, families need more help putting food on the table in winter months,” food pantry supervisor and volunteer coordinator Chuck Williams said. “They might be spending more to heat their homes, leaving less for food. Or the breadwinner was laid off because there’s no work in cold weather.”

Meanwhile, by Nov. 1, the ministry’s homeless shelter at First Baptist Church on Montreat Road is up and running, after preparations that began in August.

“We opened the shelter for the first time in November 2010, after the heartbreaking loss of a couple of homeless men the winter before,” Brame said. “And after a few years that proved to be extremely hectic for the all-volunteer staff, we decided to hire a part-time shelter manager. This has proven to smooth the operation of the shelter considerably, and each year more and more homeless find their way to its doors.”

The shelter is still heavily dependent on volunteers, though, who give up eight-hour nights every so often to serve those less fortunate.

Even before Nov. 1 rolls around, the ministry has Christmas on its mind. The ministry helps the Valley celebrate Christmas in several ways — toys for children, Adopt-a-Family, and HALO cards.

“We have Christmas rooms upstairs in the original ministry building filled with nothing but toys,” Brame said, “and we’ll take children up and let them pick out their own gift.” The Christmas rooms have become a loving work of art for volunteer Helen Kraus, who works on them all year long to get it ready for the few days before Christmas.

“This year, Lorraine Moore will team up with Connie Jenkins and Amy Snyder again to match sponsors to families in need in what had been called the Adopt-a-Family Christmas program,” Brame said. “We’re now calling it the Johnny Raines Christmas Cheer Program, in honor of the former Black Mountain police lieutenant who is remembered by many in the community for his giving spirit at Christmas time each year.”

“Sponsorship is vital for this program,” Moore said. “We need sponsors who have a heart for helping families who have fallen on hard times and only want to give their children a good Christmas. We hear many times of what a blessing it is to help others, and often ones who have received help in turn become sponsors themselves.

“Last year we had more families than sponsors, so now is the time to call or email me and become a sponsor and receive your blessing,” she said. Contact Moore at 669-9404 or

SVCM that clients with children 12 and younger may apply from Nov. 23 through Dec. 14.

The HALO Card made its debut in 2007, with surprising success.

“It’s a simple idea, really,” Brame said. “When someone buys a card for a loved one or a friend, they are making a donation to the ministry in their behalf.” Cards are available from many volunteers at churches around the Valley and at the ministry offices at 101 N. Ridgeway Ave., in Black Mountain.

And that’s not all. Deck the Trees, at the Monte Vista Hotel, has been helping raise money for the ministry’s fuel fund each Christmas season for the last few years, and it’s become a popular event. Each year local businesses and groups decorate trees to display at the hotel, and patrons vote for their favorites with a donation.

Thanksgiving doesn’t escape the ministry’s attention during this busy season.

“We try to give away turkeys and trimmings every year,” said Williams. “Last year Ingles donated 100 turkeys for families in need, and we often receive them from other businesses, churches, individuals and MANNA FoodBank. We also receive donations earmarked for the purchase of turkeys.”

After Christmas, the pace at the Ministry slows down from frenetic to hectic, and by the time winter heating season ends on March 1, staff members are a little frazzled.

“But without the volunteers we wouldn’t make it,” Brame said. “Without these loving, caring people — and a generous, giving community — there would be no Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry.”