One of the offices at Love INC was filled with more than 500 winter coats for the annual coat giveaway at this time last year.
This year, the ministry has collected only about 50 coats and the giveaway is just a week off.
''Some people have said we should cancel it, but I'm trusting God,'' said Celina Flunoy, executive director. ''I think it's just a sign of the times. The economy is really tight in this area and people may not have the extra money to buy coats for families this year.''
It is typical for Love INC (In the Name of Christ) to get donations of up to 600 new and gently used coats from parishioners in its partner churches and local business owners. And in past years, that hasn't been enough to give warmth to all of the children and adults who show up hoping to find a coat that fits.
''I don't know why we aren't getting coats this year, but I know we need to figure out how to get more and quickly!'' said Jo Claire Knott, a Love INC volunteer. ''I'm
going to go back to my church to see if I can get more, because I would hate for these families not to have coats for winter.''
Knott, 77, is the contact person for Love INC in her church, First Baptist of Akron on Shatto Avenue. She started volunteering with the Summit County ministry about 15 years ago.
The local ministry, in its 16th year, is an affiliate of the national Love In the Name of Christ. It is made up of a network of churches and serves as a clearinghouse to help about 40 local churches meet the needs of the poor, including food, clothing, pots and pans, furniture and assistance with utility bills and telephone service.
Love INC screens requests for help and refers each request to a local church, which provides money, goods or labor to the needy. It provides educational opportunities, like budgeting classes and guidance on how to get a criminal record expunged. It also connects those in need with church members and leaders who provide mentoring, help setting goals, and spiritual and emotional support.
The Rev. Bud Couts, pastor at Goss Memorial Church in Akron's Kenmore neighborhood, provides financial counseling to families who are referred by Love INC. His church has been a Love INC partner for about two years.
''Love INC is a ministry that does whatever it takes to help families with their needs,'' Couts said. ''If a family needs a refrigerator, Love INC finds it. If a family needs diapers, Love INC meets that need. If a family needs food, Love INC helps put it on their table. It's all about helping people get on their feet.''
Clients normally come to Love INC by referral from social services or friends who have received help from the ministry. The majority are single mothers struggling to make ends meet.
''One time . . . [Children Services] took six children from a mother because she didn't have beds for them,'' Knott said. ''I went to my church and asked for beds. We got six beds and she got her children back.''
Flunoy calls Love INC a ''gap'' ministry because it takes care of needs that aren't met by other agencies and organizations. And it does its work on a small budget.
Last year's annual report shows a budget of $54,855.74, while the dollar value of goods and services received by the 5,286 people helped by the ministry was $557,378.05. The dollar amount was determined using the fair market value prescribed by the Internal Revenue Service.
The budget comes from donations by churches, organizations, businesses and individuals.
''We truly are a fishes and loaves ministry. We are able to do so much with so little because the churches really do the work,'' Flunoy said. ''The body of Christ has every resource for helping those in need, and we believe the Scripture that says, 'Through Christ all things are possible.' That's why I believe we will have coats for the families that come to us.''
For information about Love INC or to donate, call 330-762-1221. The coat giveaway is 1 to 3 p.m. next Saturday at Summit Lake Community Center, 380 Crosier St., Akron.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.