By Daniel Wallace
The Christian mandate to fight poverty is as old as Scripture, but doing it requires constant creativity.
“We recognize that we can’t rely on any one source of funds or any one way of doing things to meet the needs,” said Angel Pittman, assistant director of Touching Miami with Love, a community ministry started in 1995 with support of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
So on Sunday May 5, the organization planned its fifth annual “A Touch of Art” event to raise operating funds through the sale of artwork created by TML youth and local artists. The event features a dessert bar, art lessons and opportunities to watch professional artists at work.
Pittman acknowledged the event is a long way from the traditional, annual fundraiser model. “We are constantly finding ways to push the envelope and expand,” she said.
Like many other ministries these days, the CBF partner has no choice but to get creative with its revenue streams. Funds are increasingly scarce and the need is increasingly rising.
“Primarily our fundraising is driven by one thing — the need that is represented by our community,” said Jason Pittman, the TML executive director and Angel Pittman’s husband. “That is tremendous. That’s what drives us.”
That need in the historically African-American community of Overtown is primarily economic: 55 percent of its residents live in poverty, and the median household income is under $12,000. With such drastic needs in the community it serves, TML has been forced to think outside of the box.
“We have a good base in terms of CBF, CBF Florida, local churches and local strong grants, but all those in and of themselves are only a piece,” Jason Pittman said.
“A Touch of Art” raises funds in a variety of ways, including a silent auction. Artwork such as flowered pens, duct-tape wallets and canvas paintings made by TML students are also sold. The main draw of Sunday’s event was the “Art That Feeds,” a project where Miami artists paint on plates that are sold through silent auction.
The auction price for the plates begins at $50 and has a guaranteed price of $200. Nearly 80 plates, created by 60 of Miami’s finest artists, were on display this year.
All money raised through the “Art That Feeds” silent auction will support the nonprofit’s high school program, where dinner is provided for students three times a week. The pitch is that through purchasing just one plate, all 35 students in the program can be fed for an entire week.
Because of a Hunger Initiative grant given by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 45 percent of the funding needed to provide quality dinner meals is covered. The “Art That Feeds” silent auction is designed to supplement that funding specifically, ensuring that this program can continue within the organization.
TML’s high school program, known as “Today’s Leaders,” meets three nights per week. Many students in the program don’t have parents or additional support systems that can regularly cook for them, according to Angel Pittman. “Food stability and making healthy food choices is a very big issue in our program,” she said.
After the meal, students either participate in creative arts (such as dances, dramas, music and paintings,) Bible study and worship or social skills. Although all students in TML’s high school program must be enrolled in school, many lack the social skills that would be considered normal in more affluent communities. “The biggest lure and worry for us is the prevalence of drugs, the drug trade and the violence that follows that,” she said.
TML also serves kindergarten through eighth grade students with an out of school program, known as “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Students receive help with their homework, chow down on an afternoon snack and participate in teaching literacy and fitness classes every day. TML also serves as the liaison between the school and these students’ parents who do not attend during parent-teacher conferences.
TML began as a dream of Miami’s Central Baptist Church in 1994, and has partnered with CBF from the very beginning. The Pittmans are CBF field personnel and have been with TML since 2005.
CBF Florida owns the TML building and provides it to the organization rent-free. The state organization works to send teams of volunteers to TML. Of the 350-400 volunteers TML has each year, around 80 percent are from a youth group in a Baptist church.
Ray Johnson, CBF Florida coordinator, said the partnership between CBF and TML has been successful and sustaining because the missions of the organizations are so similar. “TML and its ministry line up with our values of ministering to the most marginalized in the world and our country,” Johnson said.