Churches: North Dallas Shared Ministries Benefits Outweigh Restrictions

(Source: North Dallas Shared Ministries’ 2013 Annual report)
(Source: North Dallas Shared Ministries’ 2013 Annual report)

Since 1983, North Dallas Shared Ministries has helped those in need with food, clothing, medical, and financial assistance. But how those seeking help get approved — or not approved — for services has caused a bit of discussion among the philanthropic crowd.

By its nature, the center works with clients in specific areas.

“We do zip-code verification to get financial assistance,” said executive director Judy Rorrie, who has worked with NDSM essentially since its founding. “They have to live in one of the 20 zip codes that we serve.”

From looking at the organization’s Facebook page, the fruits of their good work is evident: photos from charity events such as food drives with Ursuline Academy and the Episcopal School of Dallas abound.

But there are also concerns voiced through reviews and posts to the page. One commenter claimed he was turned down due to his “debt-to-income ratio.” But Rorrie says no such “ratio” is used.

“That’s a bunch of baloney,” Rorrie said. “You’d have better luck if you looked at our website [for eligibility requirements].”

Though most of the programs offered by NDSM — such as clothing and food assistance — do not require income verification, financial aid does require it.

“Because we’re an emergency aid center, there needs to be income, which is then verified,” Rorrie said. “If someone comes and asks us to help with July rent but there’s absolutely no way August could be paid, then we’re not really helping the client because they’ll be evicted in August and we haven’t been good stewards of our resources.”

In some cases, those who are not approved for financial assistance turn to other charitable organizations for aid.

“We are contacted by scores of people every year who are turned down by NDSM,” said Wick Allison, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Holy Trinity Church. He also is chairman and editor-in-chief of D Magazine Partners, the parent company of People Newspapers. “Most of these people are temporarily unemployed. What good is a program of financial assistance if it doesn’t help the working poor when they need it most?”

But to speak to one of the 52 “covenant congregations” — churches and temples that are committed to NDSM to provide aid — is to hear a different story.

“We understand that they don’t just give to everybody, but those of us in decision-making are aware enough of their rules and regulations that we’re in solidarity with how they do that,” Royal Lane Baptist Church director of music and worship Harry Wooten said.

Many of the groups hold food, clothing, or toiletry drives to donate items to the organization, and are less involved in the financial-assistance department, but that depends on the individual congregation.

(Source: North Dallas Shared Ministries’ 2013 Annual Report)
(Source: North Dallas Shared Ministries’ 2013 Annual Report)

For example, Temple Emanu-El, which has been a “covenant congregation” since NDSM’s founding in 1983, holds food drives during the Jewish High Holy Days, such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. They recently extended their collection period from mid-August to mid-October.

“We have members who volunteer there throughout the year, and we have families who volunteer together,” director of community connections Diana Coben Einstein said.

Last year alone, NDSM provided nearly $200,000 in rental assistance and more than $51,000 in utilities to clients. That’s not counting assistance in other categories, such as food and back-to-school clothing.

“Our greatest financial support and food support and volunteer support comes from the churches,” Rorrie said.  “We’re helping a lot of people.”

NDSM relies on more than 500 volunteers, a staff of three, and only one paid employee.

Yet even that volume of help cannot reach all those in need.

“If they are only there to help people with a steady income, who needs them?” Allison said. “I would hope NDSM’s board and participating churches will reconsider this policy, which frankly I find incomprehensible.”

This story appears in the August edition of Park Cities People, on stands now.

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