Hillsboro's Love INC of greater Hillsboro brings churches together to fill community needs.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Carol Shafer, executive director of Love INC of Great Hillsboro, has spent the last six years bridging the gap between local church groups and people in need. The organization works to bring more community service ministries to Hillsboro-area churches.Love is in the air for Carol Shafer.

Every day, Shafer and more than 100 volunteers from across Western Washington County band together in a faith-driven effort to help Hillsboro's less fortunate.

Shafer is executive director of the nonprofit Love INC of Greater Hillsboro. The group works with local churches to get more involved in community service. The churches offer everything from new mattresses to shoes, firewood and cleaning supplies to those who can't afford them.

"I love this," Shafer told the Tribune on Monday as she looked at the company's one-room office off Elam Young Parkway. "It's just so fulfilling to do something that really helps people in a positive way."

Since it began six years ago, Shafer's group has formed a coalition of 18 churches across the Hillsboro area. As the organization spots needs in the community, churches step up to form "gap ministries" to meet the need.

"We recognize the gaps that exist in the community, and we fill that gap," Shafer said.

Love INC takes donations from across the Hillsboro area. In their small office they stack piles of toilet paper, mattresses, clothes and other items.

"We don't want anything that you wouldn't give to your own mother," Shafer said as volunteers sort through donations.

Those donations go to individual churches, which offer niche services to the community. Some run clothing drives, others hand out cleaning supplies.

The group is part of a larger organization of nonprofits, Love In the Name of Christ, based in Michigan. There are more than 100 Love INC groups scattered across the United States, including nine in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Shafer says her organization is just a conduit, connecting people with the help they need.

"We think of ourselves as the local outreach office," she said. "Really, Love INC is a partnership of churches. We aren't anything by ourselves."

'Together, we can do more'

Shafer said the goal of Love INC isn't to give handouts. It's to help people change their lives for good.

"For change to happen in somebody's life, you have to walk alongside them," Shafer said.

Love INC works with more than 100 families each year. In addition to its partner church ministries, the nonprofit offers classes on everything from child care to forming healthy relationships.

Much of the groups' work is by phone. The organization runs a call center where people in need can learn more about Love INC, and the services it provides.

"We talk with people and pray with them," said Jolene Snow, a social worker and the organization's client services manager. "We want to slow down and make sure we're helping with the best way possible. We don't want to just put a Band-Aid on things. If there are deeper issues that need addressing, we want to address them."

Some people want help finding work, Snow said. Others need clothes or other items for their children.

"We're one of the only places in town that gives out hygiene cleaning products," Snow said. "We get a lot of calls for that. Things like toilet paper or feminine hygiene products all cost money, but you can't buy that with food stamps. If you're on a tight budget, you might not be able to afford them."

By banding together, Snow said, local churches are able to offer to the community.

"That's the Love INC model," Snow said. "It's all about collaboration and cooperation. Together, we can do so much more than we could independently."

Shafer said the need for services in Washington County is rising, as housing prices continue to grow and the city continues to expand. Hillsboro is projected to become Portland's largest suburb over the next few years, surpassing Gresham.

Shafer said her faith calls her to serve her community, a feeling expressed by many Christians.

"The church is part of the community, we want to serve the community," she said. "We shouldn't be 'apart,' we should be 'a part.'"

Volunteer Rinda Lesage has been working with Love INC for several months. She said many people want to do more in their communities, but don't know where to start.

"A lot of Christians want to help their neighbors," she said. "Love helps them do that. Churches don't have to reinvent the wheel in every town in America. They give us the ability to help others."

Although the organization is made up of churches, Shafer said its mission isn't to convert.

"We help anybody," she said. "We may be a group of churches, but we don't just help people who go to church. We want to help everybody, with no strings attached."

Looking to the future

Volunteers at Love INC really come to know their clients, she said.

"Many groups can't spend the time with people that we can," she said. "We talk on the phone with them, we see them in person at churches when they pick up the supplies at our ministries, then we invite them to our classes and we spend 11 weeks getting to know them. By the end of that time we've really touched them in a meaningful way. We form relationships with each other. Even if it's just on the phone, people know that we care and are listening to them. It makes a big difference."

Two years ago, the organization got a call from a woman in need of firewood, hygiene products and cleaning supplies. When Love INC volunteers called her for a follow-up last year, the woman told the organization her situation seemed hopeless before talking to them, and had been considering suicide.

"We were interested in her," Shafer said. "We cared about her. Listening is such a huge part of what we do."

Shafer has big dreams for the organization. She'd eventually like to open a retail store in the city, which would help pay for the group's operations. Currently, Love INC survives on donations from individuals and church groups.

"There are a few service gaps that we've noticed, too, that we have been searching for church groups to take on," she said.

She hopes to find a church willing to do yard work for the elderly, or help people move, she said. Shafer said she'd like to see her organization offer more classes to the community.

Shafer is looking for warehouse space the organization can use to house its ever-growing collection of donations.

"This space fills up quickly," she said. "We'd love to offer tables and chairs, or couches. People have furniture they are willing to donate to us, but we just don't have the room. We'd love to be able to help more people with more things."

Some Love INC centers in Oregon and Idaho have grown to more than 400 volunteers. Shafer said she expects her operation to grow to that size, in time.

"It just takes tenacity," she said. "If we continue to step forward and not give up, we'll be able to serve more people, have more classes and offer more to the community."

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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