Ministry is often as much about filling a need as offering a prayer.
Since 1999, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Shaler has hosted an outreach ministry called New Start, which picks up household items in good condition that are no longer wanted and redistributes them to those in need.
Run by Larry Nugent, 60, of McCandless and David Martincek, 55, of Aspinwall, New Start has been a two-man moving company ministry.
"I don't think people quite understand that there's a certain part of society where the things we take for granted just aren't available to them, for whatever reason," Mr. Martincek said. "We're not concerned about how the people we help get into their situations; we just want to do whatever we can to help them out in our own way, which is providing them with furniture."
Mr. Nugent said he's amazed how often he receives a call with a need he can't fill but then gets a donation that fits that need.
One such incident involved a woman and her son who were moving into an apartment with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
She wasn't at home when they delivered a load of household items, including dishes and towels, a bed and a TV, so her son let them in.
"I found out later that she came back to [North Hills Community Outreach] the next day to thank us," Mr. Nugent said. "She told them when she left for work she had nothing, but when she came home she had everything."
Joy Salerno, 45, of Reserve considers New Start a blessing to her family. Her husband recently was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. Mrs. Salerno works as a bartender to compensate for the loss of the family's breadwinner and support her husband, three children and one grandchild on a limited budget. When her clothes washer suddenly broke, she faced a problem of another kind.
"With everything that's been going on in my family, the washer breaking would have been a huge problem," recounted Mrs. Salerno. She called NHCO, hoping to get some help, and was put in touch with Mr. Nugent. Within a day, Mr. Nugent called to tell her that he had a washer for her.
"He didn't ask me for anything," Mrs. Salerno said. "He brought the washer in by himself and hooked it up for us. He just smiled and did what he needed to do."
Mr. Nugent said the New Start ministry began when Northside Common Ministries (NCM) presented his church's social ministry committee with a need to supply household furnishings to men leaving the Pleasant Valley Men's Shelter and moving out on their own.
Today, recipients are identified by individuals who know of people going through financial hardships and by several outreach ministries. The most asked-for items are beds, dressers, tables and chairs, lamps, TVs, couches, microwaves, dishes, large and small appliances, and bedding.
Jay Poliziani, director of Northside Common Ministries said that New Start is one of the only organizations in the area that provides household furnishings and other items free of charge to people in need.
"We operate a homeless shelter that serves 25 men every evening," said Mr. Poliziani.
"Those who find more permanent housing don't usually have furniture or anything else. It helps to have a grassroots organization like this that can fill that void, because a lot of the bigger nonprofits and church groups no longer have the resources."
Crissy Brandtner, supervisor of the counseling division of Crisis Center North, said that New Start has helped many of her clients to get their lives back on track.
"A lot of these women end up securing an apartment and having absolutely nothing to put in it," she said. "This organization is rare in the fact that he doesn't charge for anything."
Tom Cowden, 59, of Hazelwood, was homeless until a Jubilee Soup Kitchen counselor helped him to secure an apartment. New Start helped him furnish it.
"Larry was a godsend to me," Mr. Cowden said. "It was so depressing living in an empty apartment, but now I have a TV, a bed, bedding and stuff to cook with."
Vicki Burstynowicz, Sharing Projects coordinator at NHCO, said that New Start also helps people who have items they can't use anymore.
"We don't take furniture donations, so when donors call, I try to get Larry in touch with them," she said. "He arranges a delivery time and usually within a week he has the furniture for them. He's helping people on both ends."
Mr. Nugent said he hopes New Start will be the beginning of a communitywide effort to recycle useful household goods to people who need them.
"Maybe more people can get together and do the same thing we're doing, which would be great," he said.
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.