Woman devotes life to helping community

July 31, 2009 7:23:17 PM PDT
There is a group helping the needy in Santa Cruz County that is not worried about cutbacks in government funding because they do not get any to begin with. The organization began with the volunteer efforts of one extraordinary woman.

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For Annette Marcum, the economic recession means slowing down is not an option. The food pantry in Ben Lomond is busier than ever.

"Oh my God, this [the need] is the worst I have ever seen it in my 27 years," she says.

The organization Marcum founded now serves up to 1,800 people every month in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"She is the most caring and loving person I have ever met in my life," says food recipient Elisha McKeown.

The deep appreciation is not just for the food. Bags of groceries are indeed given out every week. There are also hundreds of new backpacks and supplies for children returning to school and toys at Christmas for families who would otherwise do without.

Still, it is not the stuff so much as the spirit in which it is given.

"When you treat them with dignity when they come, that's the most important thing," says Marcum. "They go away feeling a whole lot better about themselves and they can take better care of their families and that's what makes the difference."

Marcum started volunteering at the age of 15, but it was in 1982 when disaster struck her community that service to others became a passion and profession. It was a devastating storm that flooded Love Creek and left a deadly path of destruction.

Marcum starting taking people into her home and organizing disaster relief. The result was a community-based organization called Valley Churches United Missions; a name that is somewhat misleading.

"We are not a church. We are this group of people coming together to perform humanitarian acts," she says.

Those humanitarian acts take place on a daily basis and during times of crisis like the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Valley Churches United was helping victims long before federal relief every arrived.

"FEMA helped us a lot, but if it weren't for Annette, we would have still sat there numb not having a clue what to do in that situation with everything that we had just lost," says 1989 earthquake victim Jeanne Bell.

Through heartache and triumph, Marcum has logged more than 46,000 volunteer hours.

"Phenomenal. There are no other words for it. She is an amazing woman," says 1982 storm victim Ross Harriman.

Part of the amazing story of Valley Churches United is that less than 5 percent of the budget goes to overhead. There is only one paid staff member and the operation runs on generous donations and dedicated volunteers.

"She helped us, we keep helping and it goes 'round and 'round and that's what communities like this are all about," says a recipient.

It is that community support and all of the volunteers she inspired that give Marcum reason to think the circle of giving will continue long after she is gone.

"That's the whole thing. That's the legacy that I leave is what you see here and I am certain it will be, that this live on forever," says Marcum. "It's not Annette Marcum, it's Valley Churches United."

ABC7 salutes Marcum and all of the volunteers at Valley Churches United Missions.

If you would like to help or donate, visit www.vcum.org

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