Tending the flock

Shepherd of the Streets, a ministry of the United Churches of Lycoming County, is marking its 25th anniversary silver jubilee this year.

Shepherd of the Streets opened on April 1, 1988, and has served those in the area who need help making it in the material world ever since.

“The Shepherd is the backbone of so many people’s lives, supporting our human needs,” said one woman coming in to get some help fixing her broken-down car this past week. “Where would this town be without the Shepherd?”

Dr. J. Morris Smith, “Shepherd,” or director, of Shepherd of the Streets has served in that role since 2001.

He said that over its 25 years, the ministry always has tried to find places it can serve where other services aren’t reaching.

“Everything we do has to do with health and safety. If anything’s going to be sacrificed, it’s going to be that, usually, with our people. We traditionally give out a hygiene kit. We don’t do clothing or food. Years ago we got together with the Rescue Workers and the Salvation Army and said we would get what wasn’t being covered.”

Prescription assistance accounts for most of the funds that the Shepherd distributes to the needy, Smith said.

“If you have a person who might be given a prescription for a moon boot, they’re pretty much up salt creek. They can’t do that themselves. Then we get people who were laid off, usually older, they lose insurance and they’re the type who realizes they’re not going to get hired easily. They sit there and worry themselves right into a heart attack. Medical assistance doesn’t move very fast and they need those initial medications after a heart attack.”

The Shepherd got its start when, in the mid-1980s, “so many people were coming to all the churches, pastors needed to have help, and didn’t know what to do, how to deal with people who came, and what was best to do, the worst things to do,” said Rev. Gwen Bernstine, executive director of the United Churches. “The Shepherd is designed for what we needed in this community – it’s pretty independently designed.”

Since the economic downturn, a new group of people have come through the Shepherd’s doors, Bernstine said.

“A lot of people lost their jobs and have come here who’ve not been here before. And we’ve had a lot of people who have been here before, but not for a long time and they had to come back.”

People coming to the Shepherd for help need medication, but that’s far from the only thing the ministry provides.

Steel-toe boots and non-skid shoes, for workers who have gotten a job that requires that sort of equipment but haven’t received a paycheck yet, are one thing the Shepherd provides, along with bus passes. So is gas money, for those people who need to visit out-of-town doctors or visit children taken to hospitals outside the county.

“Doctors in the area can only take so many people who are on medical assistance,” Smith said. “People have to go to Sunbury, Danville, Lock Haven to get their medical care.”

When the funding is available, the Shepherd also provides money, to families with children, to help with utilities such as oil, water and sewer.

“Oil is just going out of sight,” Smith said. “A minimum order of 100 gallons is $400 – people don’t have the money for that. Between us and state and federal programs, we can get people through the winter.”

“If your water is turned off, you can lose your kids,” Bernstine said.

The Shepherd also, when available, helps people pay for oral surgery, eyeglasses and dental care.

United Churches will start a collection drive in September “to encourage families throughout county to honor the Shepherd of the Streets jubilee,” Bernstine said, and will be having a “scavenger hunt” in the winter for churches to collect personal hygiene items.

There also will be a series of stories, beginning in the fall, in the Sun-Gazette to tell stories of those helped by the Shepherd.

Time goes by, anniversaries are marked, but need always is there.

“We’re not changing anything we do – we’re just doing what we do,” Smith said. “We say ‘here we are, God’ – send us resources and we’ll be faithful.”

Shepherd of the Streets is headquartered at 669 Center St., and can be contacted at 322-6538.