Churches and individuals across East Texas are striving to help Lon Morris College employees who are going without paychecks.
More than 100 employees were furloughed last month as part of efforts to salvage the private, two-year faith-based institution, which is facing financial struggles and going through reorganization. Those financial problems led to delayed paychecks for employees, but most recently resulted in the furloughs and the resignation of President Dr. Miles McCall.
Now, the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church continues taking steps to help employees.
In recent months, several ministers in the conference, along with the bishop and entire cabinet, sent a letter asking members to either designate funds or take up a collection that will be designated to help Lon Morris pay salaries, Paula Arnold, director of communications for the conference, said in May. The goal is to cover at least one payroll, which is about $200,000 to $250,000.
On June 19, the conference sent $100,000 to Lon Morris Comptroller Debbie Hamilton, and it had collected another $14,489 as of Tuesday.
The First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, along with various other churches and individuals, also stepped up to the plate.
Joel McMahon, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, said the church has received $20,000 to $30,000 to be used for direct assistance to employees, which includes gas vouchers, groceries and cash. As far as he knows, on Monday alone, the church helped about seven people.
“What happened when things started happening (at Lon Morris) is we let folks know at the school if they needed help to come to us,” McMahon said. “When people come to us looking for help, we’re trying to do (that). … We’ve helped people with doctors and with dentists and things like that as well whatever people need help with.”
Volunteers also have helped with lawn maintenance at Lon Morris, and the church sent the annual conference about $8,000 for its payroll offering. Some funds also went to help with a paycheck for the Lon Morris chaplain.
As long as it has funds available, the church plans to keep providing for employees, McMahon said. Earlier this month, the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church raised $9,000 for the First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville to use for its emergency fund.
“We’re going to be as generous as we can for as long as we can. The (United Methodist Church) district offices has provided some funds, we’ve taken offerings from church and had other churches that have offered to help out as well. We’re doing a lot and other people are contributing,” he said.
That’s because he said his church has an obligation to help people with compassion and because Lon Morris is a United Methodist institution.
“People were hurting,” he said. “These are people in our community. Lon Morris is a United Methodist school and we have an obligation, but the primary reason is folks are hurting and need help.”
Dr. Mike Deaton, senior pastor at Van United Methodist Church, agreed, saying his church is tied to Lon Morris’ tradition of education and is very supportive of the efforts to help.
The church was able to raise a little more than $3,000 for the annual conference payroll offering, in addition to missional giving.
“Every one of us who’ve served in this area … Lon Morris has been important to us,” he said. “I didn’t go there, but I look at it as my school. … I just hope something wonderful for it, not just for the school but for students who will go there.”