Editorial note: In the March issue of Together, we reported what United Methodists were doing in Elkhart to minister to people in need during this economic downtown. This month we turn our attention to Kokomo.

Another Indiana community suffering from the downturn in the automotive industry is Kokomo, population 46,000 and located 50 miles north of Indianapolis.

In Dec. 2008, Kokomo was listed third by Forbes in a list of American's fastest-dying towns. More than a quarter of Kokomo's workforce is employed in the auto sector including Chrysler and parts-maker Delphi, which filed for bankruptcy in 2005. According to press reports, about 22 percent of all Kokomo jobs are in autos and auto parts. Many of those are gone.

Kokomo's jobless rate hit 9.8 percent in November. In 2007, unemployment in the City was 5.5 percent - a dramatic 78 percent increase in joblessness. The city saw its unemployment numbers climb by another 1,475 workers in the month of January. According to recent figures released by Indiana Workforce Development, the jobless rate for Kokomo jumped from a revised December figure of 9.9 percent to 17.4 percent in January.

Feeling the impact

The city's Shiloh and St. Luke's United Methodist churches have felt that impact. According to Pastor Ray "Bud" Probasco, Shiloh is meeting the social needs of the congregation and community through Sunday school and all-day community seminars.

Probasco said, "The church recently hosted a small group session with a Sunday school class that turned into an all afternoon affair of sharing fears, concerns and gaining support."

In March the church hosted an all-day seminar with two sessions. A morning session will include resume writing and an afternoon session about financial planning.

"We dealt with what can be done before one is let go and what needs to be done when one is given a pink slip," said Probasco.

Senior Pastor Mike Dominick said, "St. Luke's has actually been only slightly affected by the downturn and loss of jobs. Beside a wave of folks who simply got jobs elsewhere and left. Others affected in our congregation have been able to take retirement packages and are doing okay."

He continued, "Of course, we are offering them general encouragement and prayer, and the opportunity to talk about things when they need to do so, but we have no organized program to cope with this crisis."

Dominick pointed out that the church's food pantry has had a definite increase in requests with the downturn. "We've given away multiple, multiple food orders," he said.

In downtown Kokomo, the 600-member Grace United Methodist Church has been directly affected by the layoffs at Delphi, which has recently laid off executives and engineers without pay for two weeks. Dephi salaries have been cut 10 percent.

According to Pastor Steve Beutler, the church has helped three member families keep their houses from foreclosure and has sent three other families to a Christian-based financial training seminary for assistance.

Grace Church, which is located next to the Kokomo Rescue Mission, a non-denominational Christian social service agency, is heavily involved with activities at the mission. The church also helps support Jeff Newton, a missionary who works with Kokomo Urban Ministries.

Community responding

The Mission has seen a 30 percent increase in meals served this year compared to this same time last year. In 2008, the Mission served more than 112,000 meals and provided more than 23,000 shelter nights for men and women this past year. The Mission operates a 20-bed women's shelter that has seen a 25 percent increase in women with a 40 percent increase in children compared to this past year.

On St. Valentine's Day, Grace Church hosted the Kokomo Rescue Mission "Walk-a-Mile" breakfast. The 850 walk participants raised more than $73,000 to provide safe shelter, nutritious meals and access to programs for homeless women and their children.

Beutler said, "The church has given out more than $5,000 in direct aid from the minister's utility fund to pay for home heating, medicine and gasoline."

Beutler said financially the church is meeting its budget requirements and has not experienced a dip in giving.

If you have stories to share from your community and how your church is meeting the needs of unemployed workers, send them to editor@inareaumc.org. In the meantime, let us continue to both pray and reach out to those in need.