SMARM helps thousands of area’s less fortunate

Nov. 25, 2013 @ 10:26 AM

Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries is Sevier County’s largest local, charitable agency aimed at helping families or individuals that fall under the poverty line.

A faith-based nonprofit, its mission statement says its “purpose is to rescue the poor and needy in the Smoky Mountain area by providing recovery services in Jesus’ name.”

Founded in 2001, the group started as a way to fill in gaps not already served by other organizations.

“In the community we had Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, which had just gotten started and was doing a great job. The (Sevier County) Food Ministry had started and they were running full blast, but there was really no one, with the exception of the Salvation Army, that was dealing with the homeless and less fortunate,” SMARM Director Dick Wellons said. “(Salvation Army) was very limited to what they could do, so we saw there was no one that was trying to provide shelter for homeless or trying to help on a regular basis on some of their other needs — such as delinquent rent or delinquent utility bills. Only limited amounts were available from some organizations. So we saw that as a hole that wasn’t (being addressed).

“The grassroots committee decided to see what we could do about that,” Wellons said.

SMARM was born.

Early on, the group operated with help and guidance from Knox Area Rescue Ministries.

“They agreed that there was a need here and they would help direct us a little bit,” Wellons said. “Even though our program was going to be entirely different from them.

“They were very gracious and worked with us to begin with, and we continue today aiding them and working with them as partners. We appreciate their friendship and guidance in working with us in those early years.”

Over the years, SMARM has launched a variety off efforts.

Its offices and its thrift store, Treasures of the Heart, are in Sevierville at the corner of Court Avenue and Cedar Street.

The organization’s ministries include hot meals at area churches several times a week, a winter coat day that’s coming up in a few weeks, a new program that aims at helping families move out of weekly rental housing and into more permanent homes, and other programs that aid people facing financial crises.

“Last year we served, just in our office, the people coming in and getting assistance … right at 5,000 people,” Wellons said. “That’s including their families and everything.”

Hot Meals for Hungry Hearts offers home-cooked, hot meals at several times and locations:

n 5 p.m. Mondays at First Baptist Church of Sevierville’s Youth Missions Kitchen

n 5 p.m. Thursdays at Kodak First United Methodist Church

n 5:30 pm. Mondays at Henderson Chapel Baptist Church

n 5 until 6 p.m. at Apostolic Church of Sevierivlle

“A lot of those folks are in need of the sustenance, but many of them are in need as well of the social aspect,” Wellons said of the Hungry Hearts program’s regular participants. “Having (a place) to sit down and fellowship with someone and have someone who cares. It also helps stretch their food budget. They’ve got a great hot meal that’s provided (free).”

The Winter Coat Day is set for Dec. 14. SMARM is currently collecting coats from anyone who drops them off at its thrift store, or from local business and churches. On Dec. 14, they’ll be available free to anyone who wants one in the parking lot next to the store.

In one of its newest programs, Hearts to Home, the charity is looking to help people living in weekly rental facilities find better and more affordable housing.

“We originally though that at some point we would maybe have a shelter like some of the bigger cities have,” Wellons said. “We’ve basically stayed away from that working with vouchers from day one. We actually started housing people and sheltering people from the inception — providing temporary shelter either through motels, apartments, etc., and we actually paid for a place for them to stay.”

Weekly rentals in Sevier County are often converted hotels in need of renovation and maintenance. Some residents are working poor, other have disabilities or are older individuals on a fixed income. Many say they wind up in the rentals because they can’t afford the deposits or other initial fees required at apartments, or down payments on homes.

Hearts to Home offers aid in paying those initial expenses, as well as other services, to families or individuals that can show they would be able to pay the rent on apartments with some help.

“(It’s) trying to help people move from their less-than-gracious abode to a permanent structure,” Wellons said. “We’ve had about 12 churches indicate a desire to work with us as partners in finding families and places that meet the criteria that we’re looking for.”

In addition to those services, SMARM helps qualified applicants make utility and other payments.

The organization raises money through donations, through the thrift store and through several events throughout the year, including the Festival of Trees this week at the Mills Convention Center in Gatlinburg Tuesday through Saturday.

SMARM also gets a lot of support from area churches.

“We have a lot of churches that are very, very gracious and make donations to us on a regular basis,” Wellons said. “Financial donations and members as well as the churches make gifts-in-kind to our thrift store. In turn our thrift store will sell the product or give them to people that are definitely in need.”

To learn more about SMARM, or to volunteer, visit www.smarm.org.