Where Checks Alone Can't Help

Churches and faith-based programs step in to sustain the working poor

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Pete Pin for TIME

State representative Ryan Smith and Susan Rogers at Michael's Ice Cream in Jackson, Ohio.

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The next day, I visited the Journey's End Ministries food pantry in Newcomerstown, a few hours north of Jackson. This, too, was faith-based--funded by 30 local churches and housed in an old auto dealership. The place was humming with elderly volunteers. "This is a choice pantry," said Janet Gore, its director. "We don't just hand them a sack of goods. They can pick what they want."

I spent the morning talking to the people who went in looking for food. Most were unemployed or divorced or raising their grandchildren. Most received some form of federal stipend. They seemed equally divided among Republicans, Democrats and the terminally alienated. But they had found something at Journey's End that they couldn't find at government agencies: a loving community that wasn't judgmental. Some of the recipients even volunteered in their spare time. "Seventy-five percent of the people in this area qualify for food stamps," Gore told me. "Seventy-five percent of the kids qualify for the school-lunch program." She was for those programs and for Obamacare as well, although she assumed it would be shot down by the Supreme Court. "For religious folk like us, gay marriage is a no-no," she said, adding that she voted for Obama in 2008 and was thinking about voting for Mitt Romney this year because she was disappointed that Obama hadn't revived the economy. But politics was peripheral in her life, taking a backseat by far to the daily joys she felt in the food pantry. "You can just feel how happy we are, how blessed to do this work," Gore said. "Can't you?" Yes, I could.

TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

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