Paducah Cooperative Ministry marks 50 years of service
Though a lot has changed since Paducah Cooperative Ministry formed five decades ago, two things have stayed the same – there are people in need in far western Kentucky and there are people who want to help.
The nonprofit group provides emergency grocery and food supplies to hundreds of families weekly, as well as providing shelters for women and children experiencing homelessness through their Fresh Start Village program. PCM also provides assistance with costs like rent, utilities, prescription medication, transportation and identification replacement, among other things.
The interfaith ministry’s first executive director, Tim Taylor, said it began in 1973 as a project between four downtown Paducah churches “trying to figure out a way to help the needy instead of having just go door to door begging.”
Taylor spoke about the group’s beginnings and the happiness that he’s felt watching the group grow during an anniversary celebration in Paducah Thursday
“We started with no money, no agenda, no staff, no office,” Taylor said. “Now we [what] we have is wonderful. It's just been joyful. So I'm so grateful to just have been a little part of that.”
Heidi Suhrheinrich served as the group’s executive director for nearly half of its 50 years, stewarding the organization through the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[PCM] doesn't belong to any one church or organization. It is, first and foremost, God's ministry and so we seek to be guided in all things, all of us, through that. We treat people with compassion. We protect their dignity, and we let them know that they are accepted,” Suhrheinrich said during her remarks at the celebration. “I don't know what the next 50 years will bring. Change happens so rapidly anymore I don't know what tomorrow will bring. But, I do know that PCM will continue to be relevant in this community, whatever it looks like, in the next 50 years.”
Lacy Boling took the reins from Suhrheinrich in 2022. She said the organization’s services are needed now more than ever and that those needs are rapidly evolving.
Boling said that PCM supplies more than 450 families with groceries monthly. That number has stayed steady, but the executive director has observed a growing need for housing and rental assistance.
“We're seeing folks coming in with 50%, and 60% [rent or mortgage to income] ratios, and that doesn't work in the economy. So they can have one or two jobs, and still not make ends meet,” she said. “We're consistent with food – that's never going away – but the increases are utilities and rent. That's where we have to lean in to figure out a solution.”
While the group’s Fresh Start Village can house nearly 50 women and children experiencing homelessness, she said it’s “always full.” Figuring out the next step of that program – along with more storage solutions for donations – is one of Boling’s big picture priorities for the organization’s next phase.
“Obviously, more lodging spaces is a quick solution, but we want to be able to make things holistic for folks,” Boling said. “So I'm interested in just expanding our services out there. That doesn't mean that we have to do that ourselves. We can work with partner organizations, partner agencies that are local, to use the facilities we already have.”
Boling confirmed that wireless internet will be installed at the facility and that potential expanded services could include on-site counseling and medical services.
Boling credits the longevity and success of PCM to the community’s giving spirit and its volunteers. The organization’s food budget is just $37,000 per year, but they give out more than $200,000 worth of food. The difference is made up by donations from community members, government food programs and supplies from other organizations.
“PCM is successful because people see that it's tangible and people are committed to helping,” Boling said. “It has a very simple goal: to do God's work with human hands. It's all over everything we do here.”
This story has been corrected to accurately reflect how many families Paducah Cooperative Ministry feeds on a regular basis.