Open Heart Ministry Brings Exceptional Help to Clarksburg, Harrison County

              People need help. That is true of everyone at some point, but always true of someone around us. The needs in every community are unique, but they all come down to a few essential categories. We all need shelter. We all need food. We all need a community we can trust and depend on. Churches are a place where people can find many of these needs met. However, what happens when a church cannot provide for the needs of a person? When a call comes in for a bill that is beyond the church’s ability to help, what can they do? It was this question that led to the formation of one of Clarksburg’s most impactful faith-based organizations – Open Heart Ministries.

              “When we started,” says Gayle Lesure, United Methodist Deaconess and former Church and Community Worker for Harrison County, “people would go from church to church to get money, and we said to ourselves, ‘There has to be a better way.’” Starting from a collaboration with a single church, the ministry grew by bringing in more faith communities from the area. After a specific campaign to help pay for a gas bill in the community, it was clear that a collaborative aid program was going to be a game changer. “Why don’t we just come together and do this?! That’s how Open Heart Ministries began.”

              “When I came on,” says Rev. Anna Troy, United Methodist Deacon, Current Church and Community worker for Harrison County, and head of Open Heart Ministries, “there was a shift in the work of the Church and Community worker… Where Gayle was involved in the parish and Open Heart Ministry (and still is,) I took on Open Heart as my main focus.” That focus has blossomed into a vibrant ministry. Open Heart Ministries helps serve our community alongside thirteen United Methodist Churches through the Greater Clarksburg Cooperative Parish and eleven ecumenical churches from a variety of denominations.

              “Food and transportation make up a lot of our requests.” Says Rev. Troy, “We are blessed right now with Partner Churches that can contribute to what we can provide to even pay for larger needs, like tires.” In an area like Harrison County, where public transit is limited, transportation is necessary for every part of life. With the closing of the downtown Kroger, downtown Clarksburg has become a Food Desert. The access to affordable, fresh food, for those without a car of their own, is incredibly limited. The Economic Research Service defines a Low Access area as a location where one third of the population are far from a source of fresh food. Clarksburg lights up on the map no matter how the limits are set.

Map of Clarksburg, showing Low Income and Low Access to food designation within 0.5 and 10 miles
Clarksburg, showing Low Income and Low Access to food at 0.5 and 10 miles.

              Open Heart Ministries helps through referrals from Central West Virginia Community Action and other local non-profits. “When they cannot help, they will refer out to us or other groups.” The referral process ensures that those in need have had access to all available aid programs before coming to Open Heart. If anyone calls a partner church with a request that is beyond the church’s potential to help, that should be the order of referral. Open Heart is meant to fill the gaps between existing aid services, but those services need to be consulted before that help can be given. Anyone who has ever worked with aid programs knows that there are plenty of ways to fall through the cracks, Open Heart partners with other agencies to make sure that that never happens.

              “We need volunteers,” says Lesure, still a regular volunteer contributor to Open Heart, “It is not scary, there is training, and it is only five hours of volunteering once a week.” The Pandemic changed many things, including limiting the volunteer pool to about 50% of its ideal size. Despite this, the ministry still serves our community, providing thousands of dollars of aid to those in need. Monetary contributions are also an important way to help this ministry. “We ask churches to make us a line item in their budgets,” Says Rev. Troy, “Regular giving allows us to be more sure of what our budget looks like.” Likewise, individuals may regularly contribute on their own. For more information on how to support Open Heart Ministries, visit their website or contact Rev. Troy directly at: 304-669-2690.