50 years of helping people help themselves


The last Sunday, of every January, of every year, has officially been set aside to honor the work by hundreds of volunteers at Ecumenical Ministries, Inc. over the last 50 years.

Despite the official resolution passed by Daphne city leaders, those volunteers, will most likely spend that day working, like they do nearly every day, of every year, to help those in need in Baldwin County.

“When new people come into the region and want to help people in our county there is a conduit already set up,” said Sally Deane, executive director. “It’s a strong organization and it is nice to know that there is a community organization that has been here this long and thriving.”

The county-wide ministry began as a small council formed by church members who were concerned about the safety of migrant workers' children in local potato fields. Volunteers created a daycare program that soon became a federally-funded Head Start Program entitled La Casa de Amigos, serving up to 95 children a year.

They had succeeded in filling a need, but as they did, they saw many other issues that needed to be addressed. So they began tackling them, one by one – food, medicine, utilities and housing. Those emergency needs, food and help paying utility and rent bills, remain the agency’s number one request.

To offer the expansive amount of assistance, EMI enlisted the help of area churches, many who had the desire to help but not enough volunteers, physical space or other organizational-type needs. EMI agreed to coordinate services, train volunteers and interview clients and the parishes provided the funding, stocked food pantries and recruited volunteers.

The collaboration resulted in the reduction of duplicated services and abuse of services and a greater number of families receiving help from appropriate community resources. By the late 1970s EMI established emergency aid centers in Fairhope and Foley.

In the 1980s the program added Meals on Wheels, which continues to deliver 50 meals a day, five days a week, and a home repair program. Ramps and roof repairs are the top requests by applicants to that initiative.

EMI's most recent initiative is the church-based Community Development Program which helps low-income communities come together, build relationships, and work together to improve their communities using the church and its values as the foundation.

On Jan. 30, EMI is hosting a Golden Gala to celebrate all these efforts by hundreds of volunteers across Baldwin County. The event features Sean of the South. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.com

As the organization reflects on 50 years of growth and change, Deane said she is humbled by the amount of good so many have done in Baldwin County over those decades.

“We are just amazed at the growth of this ministry in 50 years and how much of an influence and reach it has throughout the community and the people we serve,” she said. “We look forward to what’s happening in the next 50 years.”