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In his study of the history of welfare in America, Acton Senior Fellow Marvin Olasky talks about the “narrow but deep responsibility of making a difference in one life over several years.” You would be hard put to find a better example of making a difference – and with very few resources to do it – than an agency called Faith in Action of the Quad Cities.

Faith in Action, based in Pana, Illinois, describes itself as a multi-denominational outreach program that assists the elderly, the homebound, and the disabled to maintain independence, dignity, and quality of life. In effect, the agency functions as an additional friend or family member, assisting with such mundane tasks such as rides to the doctor, grocery shopping, and bill paying. Simple things. But for those who are all alone in the world, this everyday help may be the only tangible evidence that someone out there cares.

Faith in Action was started in 1996 by four local ministers. A $25,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation got it going. Today, the agency reaches into four hard-pressed rural counties and is supported by donations and volunteers from the local Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations. With two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $6,500, it literally operates on a shoestring. Faith In Action draws crucial support from Pana Community Hospital, which supplies office space and utilities and covers the salary of Director Lori Holthaus.

Every dollar counts. So, Holthaus was surprised and delighted when she learned that Faith in Action had won $500 in a random drawing of the 2004 Samaritan Award applicants. The prize money was offered as an incentive to applicants who filled out the online form. She plans to use the $500 to recruit more volunteers and publicize the agency to those who may not be aware of their services. “We’re going to find them,” Holthaus vows.

Grassroots organizations like Faith in Action are at work all over America – in rural counties, inner cities, and suburbs. They work heroically, with few resources and often little recognition. Funding is always a problem. Faith in Action hasn’t attracted the interest of large foundations because, Holthaus suspects, it is so small. “They want to give to large organizations because they want to give big money,” Holthaus said.

Donors also wonder about a small agency’s survival prospects. Then there’s the capacity issue. How much money can Faith in Action responsibly absorb?

She isn’t interested in seeking funding from government sources. “I find them very hard to work with, because there are always strings attached,” Holthaus said. “For a small agency, sometimes I wonder if it would be worth the hassle.”

But nobody at Faith in Action is waiting around for outside endorsement. Its staff and church volunteers are doing the work that is before them, following the Biblical command to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Holthaus remembers a call from a woman who needed a ride. It washer first request to Faith in Action, and she had no way to get to her appointment. When Holthaus called back to tell the woman that she had arranged for a volunteer to pick her up in an hour, the caller said: “You are a Godsend.” Another woman, incapacitated by a car accident, could not care for her dogs, which were the sole source of companionship in her life. The dogs would not go to a kennel, the woman insisted. A Faith in Action volunteer who is also an animal lover came to the woman’s home every day to care for the pets. And every day in Pana, this small town in Illinois, Faith in Action is standing in for friends and family.

Wha tis so inspiring about grassroots organizations like Faith in Action is that its volunteers have the ability to see the uniqueness of the human person. The volunteers provide care in relationship, seeing not a case number but a unique person with both physical needs and a spiritual capacity that is as infinite as their Creator.

Ask Holthaus about the everyday struggle to keep Faith in Action going, to recruit volunteers, to attempt to meet a need that will never be satisfied, and you will get a straight answer.It’s difficult, for sure. But she is also confident that the people in Pana will keep it going. After all, it’s about friends and family with them. Holthaus makes a promise: “We will be in business.”