Dreaming of and planning for the food production possibilities on The Loop. It was foodie heaven—a large commercial kitchen full of chefs bottling sauces...
For most of her life, Jane Williams, program director and co-founder of Love INC, has been in the business of helping people out. “I think right away I knew this was something that really tugged on my heart and something I could give my life to,” she says.
The idea for Love INC, a faith-based nonprofit in Columbia, was planted in 2001, when Williams first voiced her concerns about the church community.
“I thought we should really have churches in the community working together,” she says. However, it wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, that the community was spurred to work in the way Williams envisioned. Over 500 evacuees were sent to Columbia after the hurricane hit. The community quickly banded together to provide for the displaced individuals and their families.
Williams noticed how effectively the community had organized. After the evacuees settled into Columbia or moved back home, Williams and her co-founder, Pat McMurry, formed a development team, and two years later, Love INC opened its doors. As Williams says, “We have to have this hub where needs come in and resources come in and they intersect.”
Since opening in 2008, Love INC has linked thousands of individuals with the resources they needed. Love INC’s primary function is to connect and advise their clients: if someone reaches out with an issue, a Love INC worker will develop a plan to address it, coach the client along the way, and connect them with other community resources, including churches. Services range from money management programs and resume building to housing assistance and life purpose coaching.
In 2015, the poverty rate in Columbia was 24.5 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau — 11 percent higher than the national poverty rate that same year. A majority of the people served by Love INC are living below the poverty line; many of these individuals are single parents, usually single mothers.
“People just want someone to listen to them, so we have listened to over 6,000 stories now and have tried to help as many families as we can,” says Williams.
Individuals go through a screening that verifies their need before they receive aid from Love INC. Clients participate in an intake interview in which a team member will better get to know the individual and start building a relationship before they set goals and prepare an action plan. Love INC will work with the individual until their goals are met and then follow up with them as needed in the weeks or months to come.
Not everyone seeking help from the organization requires such a hands-on approach. In fact, quite a few calls are merely looking for information that Love INC keeps in its library of over 120 pamphlets, which hold information regarding things like housing and job searching.
Love INC also operates The Love Seat, the organization’s resale store. Inspired by the success of the furniture bank during Hurricane Katrina recovery, The Love Seat takes in donations from the community and makes them available to families in need.
While many of the items are up for sale in the store, Love INC will also give out vouchers. “We might give a voucher for a bicycle if that’s how you’ll get to work,” says Williams. “We say, ‘bargains for a better Columbia.’”
“They are helping so many people in Columbia,” says Angela Stafford, a staff member at The Love Seat, “and there are people here that really need our help.”
Stafford first got involved with Love INC as a volunteer, but quickly took on the role of employee when The Love Seat moved into its location on Business Loop 70. While the growing popularity of the store has helped tremendously, its current location isn’t feasible for further growth. There’s limited space to store donated items and only seven parking spots for costumers, volunteers, and employees. Stafford says a few customers have admitted to going to the store with the intention of stopping, only to drive away when they saw all the spots full.
Love INC hopes to obtain a larger building in the future. “If we had a bigger building, I think we would get more donations,” says Stafford. And more donations, of course, would allow Love INC to bolster its aid.
“We believe we are just helping, in some ways, the compassion level raise in our city,” says Williams. “People are able to cross paths and become friends with people they wouldn’t know otherwise.”
Love INC has networked with over 80 local churches, makes referrals to as many as 70 Columbia social service agencies each year, and has a volunteer base that’s more than 200 strong. The organization has allowed the lives of people from all different backgrounds to intersect.
By focusing on forging those strong relationships within the community, Love INC ensures that the good they do doesn’t just end with their programs.
“If you look at people who have made it out of poverty, 99 percent of them are going to say it was because of a relation. It was a mentor who gave them information. It was a guide who helped them to connect with a job,” says Williams. “And that’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re here for.”