Some days, the Rev. William Fulmore serves up sermons from the pulpit of the Church of Christ at Gotha. On others, he dishes out fried chicken from behind the dinner counter at Orlando Union Rescue Mission.
Either way, Fulmore said, the purpose is the same.
“I think that this is what [God] really wants ministry to be about. Because he went around helping folk,” said Fulmore, 64, who has been serving dinners at the Rescue Mission for more than five years.
Echoing a new Pew Research Center study that found religious people are more apt to volunteer and make charitable donations than others, the Rescue Mission and other Central Florida charities say the faith community provides critical support in providing food, shelter and clothing for the needy.
In survey results released last month, 45 percent of highly religious people — those who said they pray daily and attend weekly services – reported they had volunteered in the past week. By comparison, only 28 percent of others indicated they’d volunteered over that time frame.
Sixty-five percent of the highly religious individuals said they had donated money, time or goods to the poor in the past week, compared with 41 percent of people who were defined as being less religious.
In the Orlando area, religious adherents are integral to the nonprofit network, said Mark Brewer, president and chief executive officer of the Central Florida Foundation, a philanthropic organization.
“We couldn’t deliver a lot of human services without either faith-focused or faith-based organizations or initiatives at some of the major churches,” Brewer said.
For example, 528 of the Christianity-based Rescue Mission’s 1,200 active volunteers identify as being part of a church, spokeswoman Elizabeth Lynn said. That count likely misses a host of others who might not have come with their congregation but still consider service an outgrowth of their beliefs, she said.
Churches often gather supplies for the Rescue Mission, and religious schools have also coordinated efforts to gather linens, hygiene items or gift cards for the nonprofit, Lynn said.
Roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of the region’s secular nonprofits are grounded in faith, including Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando. Catherine Steck McManus, Habitat president and CEO, said the organization serves people of all beliefs and doesn’t proselytize. However, the Christian faith “weaves its way through the organization in a very broad sense,” she said.
Churches, synagogues, mosques and other congregations represent another part of the Central Florida safety net, Brewer said.
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