Originally built in 1896 as an Episcopal church called Church of the Good Shepherd, the building that still proudly stands at 604 East Second Street in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, now serves a different purpose—though, by all accounts, it has been in service to the community since its very first nails were put in place. First as the only African American Episcopal church in Hopkinsville, then as the first library for African Americans in town, the historic little building was eventually designated as an official landmark. And after a string of mergers of United Way organizations, the former church became a haven of a different sort—one offering hope and help to those in need.
Now functioning under the name of Aaron McNeil House, Inc., in honor of its founder, Rev. Aaron McNeil, who served as the Rector of the church until his passing in 1906, the building functions as the headquarters for various community services whose purpose is to promote the well-being of individuals and families in Hopkinsville and throughout other areas of Christian County through the operations of their food pantry, crisis relief assistance, and educational services.
Truly, theirs is a mission of offering more than just a bag of food and a good word, as the team at Aaron McNeil House take a more in-depth approach at getting members of their community back on their feet. “Most of us are one only paycheck away from being in a crisis ourselves,” says Aaron McNeil House Administrative Assistant Tamara Standard. “Like many people I have found myself on hard times, but there have been people who have helped me and showed me kindness along the way. I’m glad to be able to give even just a little bit back each day.”
By all arguments, what happens at Aaron McNeil House could hardly be considered “little,” as they offer a wide range of programs and services to meet the widely ranging needs of those who have found themselves in a crisis situation—a fact which allows them to offer aid to individuals who, as Anderson says, “fall through the cracks of other programs.”
While some of the organization’s assistance is based on income and household size, others are freely given without question, not the least of which is food distributions through their food pantry. The house’s community garden also serves great purpose, as all members of the community are welcome to gather from the garden’s harvest in order to have fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Naturally, a full belly and proper nutrition is important, but their services also include rent/mortgage assistance, coverage of basic utilities, bus passes for our local transit system, and even the provision of certain medications through the signed prescription of a physician as well as prescription eyeglasses. Caring for the body as well as offering relief in dire financial conditions are but a simple snapshot of the ways that Aaron McNeil House takes the members of its community in hand and works tirelessly to lift them out of dark times.
Unfortunately, those dark times have fallen on many; but team at Aaron McNeil has been there to help in any way that they can. In 2017 alone, the organization served 6,403 individuals—nearly nine percent of the population of Christian County. 2,953 households sought assistance through crisis relief, the food pantry, and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), totaling $155,748.38 in aid. Naturally, numbers like those can’t be reached without the proper funding, and as a United Way Agency, Aaron McNeil House receives much of their funding through United Way. So, too, do they rely on the generous donations of local churches, private individuals, civic groups, FEMA, and various city and county government organizations. Because they maintain their affiliation with the Episcopal Church, the house also receives some funding from the Diocese of Kentucky.
A great help, to be sure, but funding alone isn’t enough to reach the people who need it the most, for money cannot offer words of encouragement, words of support and understanding and words of advice. Nor can it reach out and embrace someone in need of comfort or hold the hand of someone who feels alone. For that, Aaron McNeil House relies on the support of its board members, staff, and those who so willingly offer their time as volunteers—and the work that they do, each and every day is changing lives. This is the house that faith built, and that faith is keeping it standing true.
Aaron McNeil House, Inc. is located at 604 East 2nd Street, Hopkinsville, Kentucky 42241. For more information on services and opportunities to donate or volunteer, call (270) 886-9734 or visit www.aaronmcneil.org.