MUST Ministries has been serving Cobb and surrounding counties for years. When COVID-19 hit, MUST was there to meet basic needs and more.
By Jennifer Morrell
What originally began as a community outreach of Powder Springs United Methodist Church, Methodists United in Service and Training (now known as MUST) has become a significant provider of food, shelter, workforce development, medical clinic services, and clothing to the Cobb and Cherokee county communities. Over the years, churches throughout the area have become involved in this outreach, and the name was changed to Ministries United in Service and Training. Eventually, MUST incorporated as simply “MUST Ministries.”
“MUST addresses the basic needs of individuals, families and children by providing food, shelter, workforce development, medical clinic services, and clothing,” says Chuck Rogers, director of retail operations for the organization. “MUST has facilities in the Cobb and Cherokee counties and Neighborhood Pantries consisting of 39 food pantries embedded in Cobb, Marietta, and Cherokee schools, serving a large number of at-risk children. We have been supplying grocery boxes since March 2016, and this program has served 24,724 people.”
A significant initiative of MUST is its Marketplace second-hand clothing store. Located at 1407 Cobb Parkway North in Marietta, the 4,600-square-foot store offers men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, furniture, jewelry, home goods, small appliances, toys, books, sporting goods, and seasonal items. Some items are new from other stores that had overstock.
In 2013, MUST Marketplace replaced what was a small clothing closet, providing MUST Ministries clients with a retail environment to shop and receive free clothing allotments monthly. Marketplace served 2,888 clients in 2019, plus thousands of public shoppers who enjoy finding a bargain while helping MUST to help others. The Marketplace is funded by the revenue collected from cash-paying customers.
“Our model is to give MUST Ministries customers parity, not charity,” Rogers says. “We currently have two staff members and two more to hire. We are looking for a part-time cashier and a part-time merchandising associate. Before the pandemic, we had 30 regular volunteers and numerous drop-in volunteers.”
Managing through a pandemic
As it turned out, the COVID-19 pandemic was an ideal time for a service-based nonprofit to step up efforts and serve more people than ever. In the first 14 weeks of the pandemic, MUST provided nearly 1 million meals to 53,399 people, distributing summer lunches and grocery boxes, Monday through Friday.
“MUST Ministries, has been distributing summer lunch meals to children for 25 years and delivering five-day meal kits to children all summer,” Rogers says. “When Cobb County Schools decided to delay opening until Aug. 17, suddenly there were thousands of summer lunch children who needed lunch meals. MUST has been raising money and gathering volunteer and staff support to extend the program.”
Taking care of others is an expensive endeavor. MUST partners with a packaged food company to provide nutritious meals at a cost of $66,000. In addition, the nonprofit is continuing to pay for trucks, fuel, drivers, staff, and other expenses. The organization also donated $25,000 to Marietta City Schools to extend the Seamless Summer Meal Program.
Raising funds in 2020 can be difficult, but the greatest challenge MUST has faced during the pandemic has been accessing enough food supplies. In the beginning, food and toiletries were difficult to find in bulk. MUST had to resort to retail prices when, typically, a food bank and discount sites had been used.
“Fortunately, MUST donors gave money to help meet the need, but in the past month, ‘giving fatigue’ has plagued most nonprofits that are seeing a dip in financial giving and giving of food,” Rogers says.
On a positive note, Rogers has seen a remarkable linking of arms between nonprofits that have worked together to fight the crisis. For instance, a group of 60 organizations in Cobb meet regularly, sharing food, giving tips on where to find food at a good price, and encouraging one another.
When MUST Marketplace was able to reopen, it was challenging. Rogers says that, as for most retailers, the reopening was slow and sales were down. In the first few weeks, the Marketplace was selling about 50 percent of its usual volume.
“MUST Ministries has continued to adapt all programs through COVID-19, finding innovative solutions to offer help and hope for people in desperate need,” Rogers says. “Remarkably, MUST has served almost 60,000 people since COVID-19 began, when we typically serve 33,500 over the course of a year.”
Simply a MUST
For nearly 50 years, MUST has been established as a servant leader, caring for those in need in eight counties by providing food, housing, workforce development, medical care, and clothing.
“MUST is grateful for very generous donors who bring items to the Donation Center to support the programs offered to those in need,” Rogers says. “MUST is currently in a capital campaign to build a new campus to meet the demand for services. We provide 72 beds in the Elizabeth Inn Shelter, but are sadly turning away 200 to 300 people a month because of full beds — 70 percent of whom are women and children.”
Rogers says MUST absolutely has to expand its capacity to serve those in need, to provide hope to a greater number of women and children, and to reach the most vulnerable in the Cobb community. “Our hope is to build a fully furnished home with twice the current capacity with a living area designed for dignity, comfort, and space,” he says. “In addition, we will provide a centralized campus with comprehensive support services, such as a medical clinic, food pantry, and outreach services.”
Rogers recounts a success story whereby MUST Marketplace helped a citizen toward her next phase in life. “One of our regular customers is named Jackie. Several years ago, she was one of our shelter clients. She is working now, remarried, and comes to the Marketplace often to buy goods for her home. Our quality and prices allow her to furnish her home. Jackie is a testament to how MUST Ministries changes lives.”
You can visit MUST Marketplace Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (current pandemic hours). Learn more about the organization at mustministries.org.