The phone call granting rent assistance came just in time for Paris Williams and his family.
The Harrisburg resident and business owner was financially tapped. A self-made garment-maker, Williams and his wife, a dressmaker, found themselves out of work at the height of the pandemic, with weddings, galas and other events being cancelled or postponed.
No one had a reason to purchase the one-of-a-kind garments. What’s more, Williams had to return $12,000 worth of customers’ deposits to his business, L’un D’un Paris.
With no work in Harrisburg, Williams traveled to Atlanta for a pop-up event, and then to New Orleans with his wife, two young sons and designed clothing in tow. He was hoping to make enough money to pay the bills – most notably, the rent for their home in Harrisburg.
“I risked it, thinking, ‘If this works out, this little bit of money was worth it,’ he said. “But things didn’t work out, and money was super tight.”
“I said to my wife when we were in New Orleans, ‘I can’t pay the back-rent, things are pretty tight right now, the business is struggling. How about we just don’t go home? How about we go to Florida to my mom’s house? We’ll go there for a while, I’ll get a job and we’ll build something.’”
His wife agreed. But the family didn’t have time to think too much about the plans for their new life. Less than a minute later, Williams received a phone call from Christian Churches United, granting rent assistance.
“I was sitting in this crappy motel in New Orleans and I just said to my wife that we can’t go home, and [CCU] called me, saying, ‘We’re going to help you pay the back-rent, and we’re going to help you pay two months ahead of time,’” Williams said.
The family returned to Harrisburg, where Williams’ business has since returned to its successful venture.
“We came home happy, and with the wind behind me, because my home where I laid my hat wasn’t in jeopardy anymore,” he said. “I was able to go home and take care of my family and get back to what I love. I was able to catch up, take a month to work on my products, and that’s when things started selling. Things have been on the move ever since.”
Matthew 25 Grant Recipient
The Williams family is among many success stories at Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area, an ecumenical ministry based in Harrisburg that works with more than 100 churches in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties to secure housing for people in need.
CCU provides a variety of social service programs to address crisis housing situations and chronic causes of housing and financial instability. Programs include Susquehanna Harbor Safe Haven, which provides housing for homeless men; The Prison Action Committee, which provides support for inmates and their families; and Help Ministries, where Williams turned in his family’s time of need.
“Help Ministries has largely served those who are in a financial crisis or in need of housing assistance,” explained Darrel Reinford, Executive Direct of Christian Churches United. “We provide emergency shelter referrals and, even during this time of Covid, have housed many people in hotels. We provide a lot of rent assistance and help with medication expenses, travel expenses – a lot of services to help people who are in an immediate crisis.”
Earlier this year, Christian Churches United was the recipient of a $12,000 grant from the Diocese of Harrisburg’s Matthew 25 Collection. The collection supports parish-sponsored ministries that provide food, clothing and shelter. CCU will use the grant to continue assisting people – like the Williams family – who need help paying rent or securing housing.
Each November, the Diocese takes up the Matthew 25 Collection, which aims to alleviate homelessness, arrange healthy meals and provide clothing for people right here in our local communities.
This year’s collection is set for November 21. Seventy-five percent of the money donated by parishioners will be distributed through grants to parish-supported ministries, like CCU. Twenty-five percent of the collection will be returned to parishes for their support of people in need.
“The grant money that we received from the Matthew 25 Collection really helps with rent for folks who might not fit into our other programs,” Reinford noted. “We have a lot of public funding that has specific restrictions as to qualifications people need to meet, and sometimes we have folks who come to us that just don’t fit those situations. The funds from the grant give us the ability to expand our capacity in serving people that we might not be able to serve otherwise.”
This past year, Christian Churches United saw an exponential increase in the number of people seeking housing assistance.
“We were one of the organizations that administered some of the federal stimulus money that provided rent assistance. The amount of rent assistance that we normally provide in a year might be for 200 households. Last fall with that program, we served 800 households in a six-month timeframe. Right now, we’re helping with another emergency rent assistance program, through which we’ve already assisted over 1,000 households since March,” he said.
‘The Blessing that Changed My Life’
“You set me up for success, especially as a young, black business owner. That was a blessing,” Williams said, expressing gratitude for those who have contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection.
The collection is the Church at work, uplifting ministries that strive to alleviate the burden of food insecurity, secure safe housing and rent assistance, or provide people with warm clothing.
Collectively, 26 local ministries in communities throughout the Diocese received a combined total of $176,000 in grants earlier this year, made possible by parishioner support of last year’s Matthew 25 Collection.
“I’m so thankful for the program. It helped me be successful in what I wanted to do, because I was about to give up and leave my home. But now, things are complete and I run my own business. My next move is to think about how to pay it forward… I feel blessed, and I’m just going to continue to stay on this positive track. I feel like my life has really changed,” he said.
“When you donate, you don’t always know where your money is going. In this situation and with this program, you are the blessing that changed my life. I don’t know how to give enough gratitude,” Williams added. “Without your help, I wouldn’t have come back home. …Sometimes you need just a little bit of help, and I’m thankful for the blessings.”
The Matthew 25 Collection provides an opportunity to recognize and serve Jesus in others, as the Lord said in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “Whatever you did for one of these least, you did for me.”
“We’re so grateful that the Diocese has made this commitment to helping with basic needs through the Matthew 25 Collection,” Reinford said. “As an agency, we often use the Matthew 25 passage to describe what we do. Providing food and shelter and visiting those in prison are things that we see as so essential to the mission of the church, and we’re grateful to have the support of the Diocese in that.”
Learn more about the collection and make your gift at www.hbgdiocese.org/giving/matthew25.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness