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GREENWOOD — When families fall on hard times in Johnson County, one place they can go for help weathering the storm is The Refuge.
The Refuge is a faith-based community outreach center that is supported by local churches, organizations, businesses, and individuals. It's a collaborative effort to pool resources together in order to best serve those in need in the area.
Founded 13 years ago, there has always been a need for food, resources, coaching, prayer, and more in the county, but due to the recent economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need is even greater. The Refuge remains a place for support in trying times.
"I want to help like, I want to hop in there," Cheri Miller said. The Greenwood esthetician, like many Hoosiers, found herself temporarily unemployed when businesses closed for the stay-at-home order in March. But rather than sitting around, waiting for her job to come back, Miller took action to help her neighbors in need.
"I saw just from following their Facebook page that they needed volunteers, and so I thought, this is perfect," Miller said. "I can fill all my time that I suddenly find myself with. For me, it's been incredibly refreshing. I got to see so much generosity from individuals and organizations and food drives in our community just wanting to help. The tears of gratitude, and so to be that middle man, which is for me very refreshing in a time when there is a lot of hard news."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, The Refuge, which normally prides itself on one-on-one interaction with clients was forced to shift into a drive-thru method for food distribution.
But their mission to support the needy remains strong through the uncertain times. Through the face masks and gloves of volunteers, The Refuge still works to make personal connections with the people they serve in the community.
"The idea was we didn't want to ever be just a handout," said Kerry Carmichael, executive director for The Refuge. "We wanted to be more intentional and really build relationships with the families that were in need and that comes with trust, and that comes with time and effort."
Once the volunteers and workers with The Refuge build trust with clients, they can better get to the root of the problem and learn more about how they got in poverty in the first place.
Then, the staff and volunteers can rely on their network of community support to help direct clients to other organizations and people in the community to help them with other issues in their lives.
"We always want to touch on their physical needs, but their spiritual needs, their emotional needs, and just be able to build that repore with them over time," Carmichael said. "Even at the heart of I need prayer, I need someone that cares enough about me to sit down and kinda go through the situations and that only happens when they truly feel like you are there to help them."
During the pandemic and shutdowns, The Refuge has still been able to provide people in need with basic necessities thanks to the generous support of churches, businesses, and individuals in the community, Their drive-thru process has continued to provide people with food, diapers, household items, and resources.
The organization typically serves only people living in Johnson County, but due to the need during the pandemic, they opened it up to anyone in need and wouldn't turn people away if they truly needed food or other help.
For Miller, volunteering has not only filled her time in a positive way but she met people who made an impact on her life, like one single mom who found herself at the drive-thru one day during the pandemic.
"She was a mom of five, and I was one of six," Miller said. "She really just wasn't sure where the next meal would come from and I don't know how she heard about the refuge but it was her first time there."
Miller related on a personal level to this woman in need, not only because she came from a big family, but she saw a little of her mother in the woman. Miller's father was killed in an accident when she was young leaving her mother to care for six kids under the age of eleven.
"She was just so so grateful, just tears," Miller said. "And I know what that was like, a little kid, and just wishing that our family had known about something like The Refuge."
Tina Loudermilk is an employee of The Refuge and also volunteers her time with the organization. She says she was a stay-at-home mom eventually looking for a job and she loved that The Refuge was a place not only to work but also to give back to the community.
One of her favorite parts of the organization is how their coaches work one-on-one with clients to help them better their lives, so they can pull themselves out of poverty.
"It's such a personal feel, as opposed to just handing food to people," Loudermilk said. "We get to have personal relationships with them."
The Refuge also recognizes that some people may never find themselves out of poverty, and they are here for those people too.
"Our goal is to help people out of poverty or to walk with them through it," Carmichael said. "So if someone is in a situation, and they're on disability or they'll never be able to work again like we're here for the long haul for them."
The Refuge recently moved into a new space to better meet the growing needs of the community after being in several locations over the years. It is nearby their old location, and still near Emerson Avenue and Main Street in Greenwood. Their new location is located at 1150 South Park Drive Greenwood.
If you need help, want to volunteer or make a donation to help the community in need during this time, you can visit its website to learn more.