By Mike Jones
MASONTOWN, Pa. — Greg Lofstead is worried about the ticking time bomb that may be facing people who have had a moratorium on unpaid utility bills during the pandemic.
While utility companies have declined to shutoff services and landlords have offered rent forgiveness, the founder of Masontown Helping Hands Ministry thinks a calamity could be coming when the bill comes due.
“I’m very concerned,” Lofstead said. “The bills will have to be paid, and I don’t know what we’re going to do. We have money set aside for emergencies, but not enough to help the people who are in trouble.”
Compounded with that dilemma, the Helping Hands thrift shop at 14 S. Main St. in Masontown had only been open two days a week — Fridays and Saturdays – rather than the normal six days.
Rising coronavirus cases stopped even that recently when Lofstead made the decision to close the store until further notice.
- IF YOU WANT TO HELP: Anyone wishing to contact the ministry online can also do so on Facebook at Masontown Helping Hands Ministry.
“A lot of our volunteers are older, and I’m concerned for their health,” he said.
When the store was open, no one was allowed in without a mask on; but with virus case counts in the triple digits in Fayette County, he said it wasn’t worth the risk to clients or volunteers.
“We hope to reopen as soon as we know that everyone’s health and safety are protected and assured,” he said.
The organization has also seen a decrease of volunteers, down to about 14 from the normal group of about 50. That has put a squeeze on the organization’s mission, Lofstead said.
“It’s actually more than a challenge for us,” Lofstead said. “We’ve lost so many volunteers, we’re running on a skeleton crew.”
While revenue is down, they’re continuing to have to be able to help people supply people with food or help with utility bills.
“If anyone comes in, especially during the holidays, we try to accommodate their food needs,” he said. “Generally, we can. Anyone who is in need, we help.”
But that need is mainly for “the basics” to get through the pandemic.
“If they need food, we give them food. If they need help with utilities, we help them,” he said. “We’re doing whatever we can, but we’re trying to keep people afloat until all of this is over, and then I don’t know what will happen.”
In 2016, the organization marked 20 years of helping the community.
Lofstead, who formerly operated Dolfi’s restaurant in Masontown, founded Helping Hands after noticing how many pastors were passing in and out of the area and the impact that had on church-led social programs.
While Helping Hands operates independently, it receives support from churches in the Klondike Clergy Association and the organization’s mission statement reflects a faith-based philosophy:
“By our joint efforts of Christian charity, we dedicate ourselves to the humble works of service to those who are suffering, marginalized or disenfranchised. We believe that all individuals have a moral claim to food, shelter and clothing and that we must minister to those in need. As an ecumenical group, we believe that our future existence is based on continually developing and growing in our understanding of ourselves and mutual respect for our differences. Our ministry is built on our belief that all human beings are entitled to dignity as members of one human family.’’
While Lofstead said the organization needs financial donations, the biggest need right now is for more volunteers who can help. Anyone who would like to help can call the thrift store at 724-583-1101 and leave a message for Lofstead.
“We needed committed, good compassionate people who want to do the best thing for them,” he said.
Mike Jones is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, where this story is being simultaneously published. Readers may email him at [email protected].