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Action Ministries opens office in Newton

For the first time in 20 years, the charitable nonprofit organization, Action Ministries, has opened a satellite office. The Newton County Action Ministries office opened its doors on May 4 in the Wesley Building of Covington First United Methodist Church, 2160 Church Street, Covington.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, the Rev. John Moeller, president and CEO of Action Ministries, and a number of United Methodist pastors, was held in the Wesley Building on May 19.

It’s the sixth regional office opened by the ministry since it was founded in 1963.

“The community, particularly the Alcovy and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Churches, saw a need that we felt we could fill,” said Moeller. “After talking with [the two congregations] and evaluating the infrastructure already in place, we felt like we could be a good addition. We do feel like we can help lead people out of poverty, and we do feel like we can be a value add to the community.”

The decision to open an office in Newton County came about after the late Jean Davenport, a long-time Newton County resident, left money to the two small United Methodist Churches. The churches had been deeply involved in serving their local communities by providing food and clothing to those in need.

The Rev. Teresa Lilja, pastor of Alcovy United Methodist Church in Covington, saw a growing and urgent need for compassionate services for the portion of their community that struggles with poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, homelessness and hunger.

"We see a lot of hurt,” Lilja said. “We're a very small church, but the missions our folks do just blow me away. They are feeding people, distributing coats, working with a food pantry. They work very hard at it, but unless you team up with other people, your impact can only be so big. We dreamed of doing something bigger."

Even though the bequest linked Alcovy United Methodist Church to Social Circle’s Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, the two churches knew they could do more if they found a partner.

They turned to Action Ministries.

The two small congregations “saw the needs of the community were so great in Newton County and they were so small, they knew working together would help them reach more people,” said Tarama Richardson, who was named Area Director for Action Ministries in Covington.

Richardson began her work as the Area Director of Action Ministries on May 4. Elizabeth Holcombe, who had been the Covington First’s volunteer food pantry coordinator, started as the Coordinator for the Smart Lunch, Smart Kids program in April.

“Action Ministries helps lead people out of poverty and works in three program areas: hunger relief, transitional housing and education,” said Richardson. “Hunger relief is the first of the three prong outreach.”

The first program the ministry will launch is the Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program, which will bring lunches to children who would normally get breakfast and/or lunch at school free or at a reduced cost.

“Food is foundational for people,” said Holcombe. “You have to have food to do anything else. My teacher friends say you can tell the difference if a child is hungry or has eaten.”

“You have to eat before you can be smart,” said Richardson.

The Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program provides lunches to children who would normally be on free or reduced lunches during the school year. Holcombe’s job is to recruit nonprofits, churches, business—even individuals—to help provide the children a meal. She has identified areas where there are a large number of children in need.

“Porterdale has a huge need area,” she said, adding that the areas around Green Acres, Nelson Heights, Covington Mills and along County Road 212 have been identified as food deserts, where people have little access to fresh, healthy foods.
“The Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program takes meals to where the children in need live,” she said.“I think of it as a meals on wheels for kids.”

“It breaks my heart to think there are kids sitting at home hungry this summer,” said Richardson. “Action Ministries also encourages groups to engage with the children beyond serving lunch.

“Action Ministries is very specific about what they will do in a county,” she said. “It’s based on what the needs are in the community and what the community has asked for. Part of my job will be to research the demographics in the county. We need to know who is being served, where they are and what they need.

“What can Action Ministries do to build on what’s here?” she said. “I know we need stronger work force development in this county, so I will be working with the Covington/Newton County Economic Development Office to see if there are ways nonprofits can help.

“But we are moving into those areas carefully and thoughtfully,” she said. “It takes a lot of planning.”

"Bringing Action Ministries to Covington is a win-win-win situation, and that's where you find God fantastically meeting the needs of people through this little church that so wants to help," Lilja said. "The faith community as a whole in Newton County will have brand-new opportunities to work with folks in the secular world to love and care for our neighbors.”

Action Ministries has offices in Atlanta, Athens, Rome, Augusta, Decatur and Gainesville. Each office offers at least one of three services and resources: hunger relief, transitional housing and education.

The Gerogia Automobile Deals program is offering to help feed a family this summer with a Drive Out Hunger campaign. During the month of May, participating dealerships around the state are donating a portion of their sales and repair orders to fill food boxes that contain enough food to feed a family for up to five days. Text DRIVE to 41444 to participate.
Those interested in learning more about Action Ministries, can visit the organization’s web site [] or follow them on Facebook {] . Donations to the program can be made online, and Newton County residents can select Covington as their area of focus.