Tucked quietly away in what used to be the old “fishermen’s side” of West Ocean City is a treasure of our community. The role Diakonia plays for those in need each and every day is remarkable. Yet, more help is needed.
Diakonia, named for the Greek word meaning “in service to others,” began life in 1972 as a Mennonite outreach ministry. After 40 years, their commitment to those in need remains stronger than ever.
There are many diverse challenges facing the people Diakonia assists — hunger, unemployment, an abusive relationship, or homeless, to name a few. Diakonia’s core goals are not only to address their immediate needs, but to help each person acquire new skill sets and gain the knowledge and confidence to better equip them during and after their transition back into society.
According to Executive Director Claudia Nagle, Diakonia performs three vital duties for those seeking help. After a full assessment for both individuals and families, Diakonia offers a housing program, emergency assistance, and a multilayered homeless prevention program.
Right away, the homeless and helpless are fed. Over 40 meals a day are served at Diakonia. Food is critical to the service the operation provides to those in need. Their food pantry helps people who are temporarily unable to fill their own cupboards. Of many demands the facility must meet, the food pantry has produced the largest strain on resources. During November 2011 — when 1,300 bags of groceries would normally go out to families — over 3,000 were needed. For December, it was over 2,000.
Diakonia’s pantry distributes over 13,000 bags of food annually, and serves over 57,000 meals. Groups across the community hold crucial food drives to augment a paltry yearly food budget of $2,000. Amazingly, hundreds of families are served monthly through that vital emergency pantry.
As Nagle humbly explains, “Our budget is very modest. We provide everything here: housing, food, counseling, classes, and a very personalized case management. We pull together with our community; everyone brings something to the table.
“People and businesses contribute what they can,” Nagle continued. “Part of helping people feel better about who they are is helping them discover what their gifts are to share. People want to contribute. We provide that opportunity and people ultimately learn to do that in a way that is consistent.”
The number one stabilizing factor of a community is housing, Nagle points out. “We are challenged by the lack of affordable housing in our area. The cost of housing far outperforms what the wages dictate.”
Most of the emergency housing programs available throughout Worcester County offer a reprieve of only 30 days. Diakonia is very different. As long as residents are working toward goals and showing progress, the organization works closely with them to help them stay.
Of the 12 paid staff and 90 volunteers working 365 days a year to keep Diakonia open, each is grateful for the community’s efforts to assist in any way they can. Local restaurants donate food and end-of-the-season staples. The Berlin Intermediate School has had a partnership with Diakonia for 4-5 years, as do The Worcester Preparatory School, Stephen Decatur High School and The Salisbury School. Just recently, 70 Berlin Intermediate School students visited Diakonia for an entire day, working in the garden and food pantry.
“It’s a wonderful way to get students involved and give awareness of what we do. But it also gives these middle school students an opportunity to use what they are learning to better their own community,” 6th grade teacher Tammy Kreppel explained.
“Being at Diakonia still embodies all the facets of life, with all the opportunities,” Volunteer Coordinator Susan Blaney said. Classes are provided in finance, education, employment and life skills. Residents can study and apply for their G.E.D.
The Worcester County Health Department provides a therapist to work with guests individually each week. Priority Partners and The University of Maryland Eastern Shore offer classes such as diabetes management, nutrition, stress reduction and healthy eating on a budget. Because so many people from the streets face addictions to drugs and alcohol, Diakonia is partnered with the West Ocean City WAC Center for substance-abuse treatments.
Diakonia makes effective use of volunteer work and the donations given them. Two years ago, they were able to open a thrift store, on the corner of Rte. 611 & Sunset Avenue, operated and staffed by volunteers.
The home will soon host another of their fundraising events, ‘Dining for Diakonia,’ where participating restaurants donate a portion of their daily profits to the shelter.
To learn how you can assist Diakonia continue its mission of helping those in need in our community, call Claudia Nagle or visit their Website.
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