ABBEVILLE -- Ruth Bacon had her doubts when she and other concerned residents were working to establish the United Christian Ministries of Abbeville in 2006.
The need was there, but Bacon feared high poverty rates and the size of the county would prevent the organization from getting off the ground.
“I don’t think anybody expected it to be what it has become,” Bacon said. “There’s no one to take credit for it. You just thank the Lord. He’s doing what needs to be done right here. Thank the Lord and Abbeville.”
When the UCMAC first started, it offered an emergency assistance program and had 12 volunteers.
Today, the ministry also includes a food pantry and free medical clinic and the number of volunteers has grown to 90.
“To see it get to the size it is now, it’s just a joy,” Bacon said.
UCMAC acts as a central agency to help churches reach out to the community and does anything it can to improve the lives of Abbeville County’s most vulnerable, said Bacon, the organization’s executive director.
“What you get through this is the ability of the churches to be a real force in helping people in the community by using us,” Bacon said. “We’ve paid for false teeth, we’ve paid for trips helping families with children with medical emergencies who couldn’t afford to go to Charleston or Augusta or Atlanta. We’ve bought firewood and kerosene.”
When the the UCMAC first started, a clinic and food pantry weren’t part of the plan, Bacon said, but as the need for them in the community became apparent, the organization adapted.
The free medical clinic -- which has about 200 active patients -- started in 2011, Bacon said, and getting it set up was a challenge for the the ministry.
“I was sitting there one day and I was thinking, ‘I just can’t get this going,’ and said, ‘OK, Lord, what am I going to do? Help me out here a little bit,’” Bacon said. “I was sitting there and five minutes later the phone rang and it was Rich Osmus, who was the CFO down here at the hospital, and he said, ‘How about we get this free clinic going?’”
Connie Normand, the director of the free clinic and a registered nurse, said the clinic is a needed service in the county.
“There are quite a few folks in Abbeville County who are uninsured,” Normand said. “They come in and see the doctor. The nurses check them in and check their vitals and ask them why they’re here and that sort of thing. So it’s really just kind of like a regular medical office.”
The food pantry, which distributed about 80,000 pounds of food in 2016 to about 5,700 people, was started in 2009 as a way to dispense food being donated to the organization.
“We didn’t plan to do it at all,” Bacon said. “If we couldn’t help someone with a problem, at least we could give them a bag of groceries, and the food just kept coming in and coming in until we realized we were getting enough to form a food pantry.”
Bacon said she’s grateful to the community and to God for making the UCMAC a success and she’s looking forward to watching the organization continue to grow.
“We have so much support from organizations here,” she said. “It amazes me, I’ll tell you that much. And we don’t do it. God does this. Someone asked me once if I worried at night about taking care of this. No, I’m not really in charge of this. God’s in charge of this. As a matter of fact, he’s taken us some places I didn’t think we were going. But it’s been a joy to do.”
Contact staff writer Conor Hughes at 864-943-2511 or on Twitter@IJConorHughes.