Diakonia Feeling Pinch Of Increased Demands

WEST OCEAN CITY — While the economy continues to struggle, Diakonia is seeing funding cut from the top down and is relying more and more on the community.

“The tougher it gets out there,” said Housing Services Coordinator Jon Metro, “the tougher it gets in here.”

Founded in 1972 as part of the Mennonite Church, Diakonia offers temporary housing, life-skill management education and a food pantry for locals in need. Becoming its own independent organization in 1984, the agency is funded through state and national sources and support from Worcester County, its municipalities and private citizens.

“We pull some of those resources together,” said Executive Director Claudia Nagle.

For decades the organization has gotten by through balancing national, state and local funding. But with the recession drying up resources in Washington D.C. and Annapolis, Diakonia is scrambling to find ways to replace lost dollars. One program in particular, Homeless Prevention, has seen funding completely cut this year.

“That money is just gone,” said Nagle.
“While we had funds, it was very, very successful.”

Last April, Nagle approached the town of Berlin asking for a $7,500 donation to stave off the need to open a line of credit for the agency, something Diakonia has been able to avoid for the better part of four decades. Berlin came through but now, several months down the road, Metro explained that money is still tight and volunteers are being asked to do more to help the organization.

“Almost everything we have … is through donations,” he said, revealing that everything from food to books to furniture is given to Diakonia from outlets in the community.

Food especially is a linchpin of what defines Diakonia, said Metro and that was echoed by Nagle.
“We maintain a food pantry which feeds hundreds of families a month,” she said.

The pantry, the largest in the area, not only supplies guests staying in the agency’s emergency and transitional housing, but is also open to the public. While Diakonia receives about $3,000 from the USDA to stock the pantry every year, the actual amount of food that money generates is relatively low. Diakonia enhances that by adding donated food and goods raised through food drives. Without the local donations, Metro explained that Diakonia wouldn’t be able to keep up with the roughly 1,500 food bags it distributes every month, along with the thousands of meals it supplies to guests every year.

“We do a lot because we have the support of the community,” he said.

Along with the pantry, Diakonia has 40 beds between two buildings and provides temporary shelter to men, women and children. The average guest stays for about 80 days, according to Metro, though at either extreme that number might be as short as a few days or as long as a year or more. While staying with Diakonia, guests follow a tight schedule for meals and chores and must save 80 percent of their income to create a financial cushion once they leave. They are also able to attend a number of classes designed to teach or improve life-management skills.

“We provide an environment and an audience with an objective,” said Nagle.

While classes vary, they usually include subjects like resume writing, parenting, managing insurance and balancing a checking account among other things. Metro described it as teaching guests “anything and everything we can” to give them tools to find jobs and housing once they leave Diakonia. Other services, like GED classes and tutoring for children have been in jeopardy with funding being cut. However, Metro said that volunteers in the community have been stepping up, mostly former teachers offering to work as tutors.

“Currently, no one is doing what we’re doing,” he asserted, noting that Diakonia is unique in regards to similar organizations since it accepts entire families, provides educational opportunities, and contains a community food pantry. Without Diakonia, Metro believes there would be a “huge void” in the area.

According to Nagle, Diakonia is a “safety net” for the community, and serves to catch people who may be experiencing a difficult year or a difficult decade.

To learn more about Diakonia, call Nagle at 410-213-0923 or visit their website at www.diakoniaoc.org