Jim Pittman believes people of faith ought to do more than just talk.
So after he opened his office in Zephyrhills three years ago, the Edward Jones financial advisor wanted to know what Christian business owners and managers were doing to help the underprivileged in the community.
He soon found out that there was no one organization to coordinate local relief efforts. A pastors group, individual congregations and civic organizations were barely able to keep up with the struggling families who needed help paying their rent and utility bills or buying groceries.
He set out to change that.
His initial inquiries led to meetings with the Zephyrhills-Wesley Chapel Ministerial Association, the chamber of commerce and city officials. Those discussions gave birth to the Samaritan Project.
This idea is a sort of a reincarnation of the old community chest, a combination of resources. It is particularly valuable today as governments are forced to make deep budget cuts. If it works, this could be a model for other communities.
The Samaritan Project is still in its infancy. But when it's up and running, all the local calls for assistance will be funneled through the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, which will use volunteers to evaluate the requests for help and check a countywide database to see whether the person seeking help has received money elsewhere.
"If Mr. and Mrs. Smith run out of gas, we would send them to the chamber," said Pittman, "That way individual churches don't have to decide if they need help or if they are abusers of the system."
Individual businesses and churches will be asked to set aside money to help the indigent. Tim Mitchell, who heads the Ministerial Association, believes there is support for the idea. Organizers made a pitch to about 60 business owners in March. They'll talk to the faith community this month.
Let's hope all the initial goodwill translates into checks.
"When you see the young children, the moms and dads or the elderly who come for help," Mitchell said, "those are the people who really make it worthwhile."
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.