As an Elder at First Presbyterian Church here in Aiken, Pat Bisschop was chairman of the then Benevolence Committee of their Church. She started a clothes closet and it quickly outgrew the small space at the church. In February of 1986, she casually mentioned to her pastor, Dr. William (Bill) Johnston that she would like to see all of the area churches united to help those in need. Rev. Johnston immediately sent letters to 93 churches in Aiken County inviting pastors and representatives to attend a meeting to determine if the need existed to form a combined group to help the poor and needy in the Aiken area.
Representatives from 20 local congregations attended, it was discovered that each church had a clothes closet and people frequently came to their offices seeking monetary help. Ministers were frustrated, as their benevolence funds would only stretch so far. The other end of the spectrum was the people who abused the system by going from church to church seeking help for the same “light bill”.
Those attending agreed to form a lay organization having a central food pantry, clothes closet, furniture and household inventory and act as a clearinghouse for resources, information and referral, past due utilities and prescriptions. Churches would pay a proportionate monthly fee for overhead and provide volunteers.
Things moved rapidly. Committees selected the name AREA CHURCHES TOGETHER SERVING (ACTS), and decided how the organization would operate, set up by-laws, established policies, set assessment for participating Churches ($10 per month for each 100 members), enlisted and scheduled volunteers and found a centrally located building at 407 Hayne Avenue with 2100 sq. ft. of usable space for $300.00 a month. In 1994 ACTS purchased an 11,000 sq. ft. building at 340 Park Ave. SW.
ACTS, an ecumenical ministry, was dedicated to the Glory of God and to serving His needy children on August 4, 1986 less than five months after the initial meeting. As we had no other organization to pattern ourselves after, we learned by trial and error. From the beginning, communication among the volunteers was a challenge resulting in frustrated, overworked and burned-out volunteers. In August 1990, through an arrangement with the Sisters of Charity, we were able to obtain the services of Sister Mary Shea who had a degree from North Carolina State University in Social Work. She worked Monday through Friday managing the day-to-day activities. In 1995 Sister Patricia Lucchesi became the manager of ACTS and was with us for 4 years. In 1999 Sister Pat resigned and the Sisters of Charity informed ACTS they could no longer provide a Sister to manage ACTS. Since that time ACTS has been managed by lay persons to include an Executive Director and Manager of Operations.
In December of 2000 ACTS adopted new by-laws and restructured the Board of Directors and in April 2000 elected new Board members.
Today ACTS is organized, managed and operated in a sound business manner still with the original mission of serving the needy in our community to the Glory of God. The organization has gone from 20 local churches to 53 local churches tithing $20 per hundred members. ACTS operates with a small staff and the day-to-day operation is conducted totally by our wonderful volunteers.