“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”—Matthew 25:37-40
In a recent episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sundays, social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, an American lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, stated that “Mercy is what you give to others with the hope it will come back to you.”
The Northside Common Ministries, an affiliate of Goodwill of Pennsylvania, answers the call to ‘feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and receive the stranger.’ The community-based organization is an authentic example of the definition of mercy.
The Brighton Road facility was established in 1982 at the beginning of the downfall of Pittsburgh’s steel industry. At that time, 30 nonsectarian local churches (Black and White) collaborated in an attempt to create a powerful entity to meet the increasing needs of the displaced, homeless, and hungry. Today, the organization is comprised of over 60 churches from the North Side, North Hills and Cranberry section of the city. The committed support of these churches enables the NCM to continue the work they originally set out to accomplish over 30 years ago.
While many small churches are struggling today to meet the needs of their own declining congregations, Bidwell Presbyterian Church and Allegheny Alliance Church, among so many others, maintain a significant supportive relationship with the non-profit organization. Still housed in the original building purchased from the Pittsburgh Presbytery at the time of inception, the dedication of the participating churches is humbling to director Jay Poliziani and his devoted staff of eight employees. The challenging work of the director and his personnel is enhanced by the devotion of the many churches whose input, be it financial or service-oriented, is invaluable.
The NCM provides a refuge for homeless men, while also working to provide permanent housing for men with disabilities. Poliziani states that “The Pleasant Valley Emergency Shelter is full every night of the year.” Participating churches are actively living the Word of God and “Every day,” states the soft-spoken theologian. “Various congregations prepare and serve evening meals for the residents. Their presence adds a level of spirituality through conversation and prayer.”
The agency is also home for the recently revamped Northside Community Food Pantry, providing an indispensable need for approximately 850-1,000 struggling households each month. Although NCM operates on a low budget, they manage to serve the largest number of people. Working closely with social service agencies, the organization also plays host to a health clinic, utility assistance, GED classes, tax preparation, and job search support. The financial opportunity center provides guidance for government benefits, budgeting and credit repair.
There is a genuineness about Poliziani’s love for the North Side of Pittsburgh as he speaks of the economic, religious and racial diversity that is critical to the continued development and growth of the North Side. He credits the business leaders and the people of the neighborhood for the program’s success. The unpretentious director is grateful for the thousands of volunteers who walk through the doors of NCM as well as the faithfulness of the churches and foundations who meet the financial, emotional and physical needs of the program. With an accomplished sense of pride, he speaks of “the services added in recent years that are bringing people out of their situation as opposed to continuing that cycle.”
Will Terrell, a former OSHA specialist from Washington, D.C., transferred to Pittsburgh some 12 years ago. When the job in his chosen profession fell through, the shelter supervisor states the skills he learned at OSHA prove to be a huge asset in his current position. He enjoys the personal contact “with a lot of good people, and is amazed at the commitment of the involved churches.”
Keona McCaa, who is pursuing her Masters in social work at the University of Pittsburgh, is an intern who loves the gift of “being able to give back.” Her enthusiasm is evident when she talks about her learning experience and interaction with the staff, volunteers and residents.
“It is wonderful,” Poliziani states. “When people come back to say thank you.” That is his confirmation that the NCM is doing something right. And that comes from the staff that supports this director and works hard to bring it all together. “There is a low turnover of the staff and that is something to be proud of. These are people who care about what they are doing. Some days can be very stressful, but they sincerely like what they do.” These are the people who continue to work hard to “correct the wrongs,” while maintaining a service that touches the lives of those who live in the community and within God’s world. In a world that has so many issues, NCM is meeting the necessary needs of a community through the gift of mercy. In so doing, they are living the Word of God as they “feed the hungry, clothe the naked and receive the stranger.”
NCM plays host to various fundraisers which are held throughout the year. The most recent was The Celebration of Caring, in which selected volunteers are honored for their amazing efforts to meet community needs. On Jan. 23, 2016, the “Food Pantry Chef Challenge Brunch” will take place at the New Hazlett Theatre at 11 a.m.
(Details can be obtained by contacting the Northside Common Ministries 412-323-1163.)
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