Offering 'a little bit of kindness'

Jazz concert to benefit program with broad mission

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Mar 25, 2014
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds Debbi Hitchings is the administrator of the Shields Mission Project at the First Congregational Church of Camden, UCC. The church will host The Midcoast Brass Quintet in a concert to benefit the program April 6.

Camden — The First Congregational Church, 55 Elm St., will host the Midcoast Brass Quintet in a concert to benefit the church's Shields Mission Project at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 6.

The concert, which is the second benefit the jazz quintet has done for the project, will be followed by a reception. Admission is free, and a voluntary offering will be taken. Donations will be matched up to $500 by donations from two anonymous supporters.

Debbi Hitchings is the administrator of the project, which was begun in 2002 with an unexpected bequest from a summer resident, Dorothy Shields, she said. Members of the congregation wanted the money to directly benefit people in need in the community, so the project was born, Hitchings said.

It serves Knox County plus Lincolnville, because the town is a part of the Five Town Community School District.

The program wants to offer assistance in situations where it is not available from other sources, she explained, so those seeking help are expected to have applied elsewhere first, even if they have not received anything from another agency. Also, in order to make sure that its funds go where they are most needed, caseworkers or other agency representatives must present requests for aid on behalf of their clients. Hitchings will also accept requests from ministers on behalf of a parishioner.

In most cases, Hitchings can make a decision herself about whether and how much help to give.

“We try to have as little red tape as possible," she said.

If she has questions about a request, or it is for a large amount of money, she can take it to the Shields Committee, which is made up of eight church members. Committee members are “actively involved” in the program, she said, and meet monthly, unless there is an urgent need between meetings. She appreciates the fact that two of the committee members are social workers.

Some of the things the project pays for – funds go to the service provider, rather than the applicant – include heating fuel; rent and security deposits; vehicle repairs; medical treatment, especially dental and vision care; and work-related education costs.

Hitchings said she finds herself imagining how she would feel facing some of the problems of the people she helps. “It's a very humbling job,” she said.

She was told of a woman living in a local boarding house who had no money for food. When she presented the woman with a $50 gift card for groceries, “she was thrilled.”

“And then I went and did my own grocery shopping,” she said.

Hitchings keeps church members informed about the project with a monthly piece in the church newsletter where she tells about the situations of people she has helped recently without giving identifying information.

Members of the church and others in the area have consistently supported the program, she said.

“We don't do a lot of fundraising. Money just seems to come in.”

The concert that Midcoast Brass Quintet offered to do is a case in point.

Though Hitchings does not often get to meet the people she helps, sometimes they call after receiving assistance to thank her. And sometimes the thank-you is a very personal one.

Once when she was at Pen Bay Medical Center for tests, the lab tech noticed her name on her paperwork. “She said, 'You helped me take a course once.' Then we both had a good cry,” Hitchings said.

“You never know the impact of a little bit of kindness.”

Hitchings can be reached at 236-4821, or via email at dhitch@camdenucc.org.

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Sarah Reynolds
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
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Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.

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