Scott Shipman’s unbridled energy and passion for serving others is what he believes God wants him to do.
“God gives everyone gifts and talents,” he said. “After all, we are on Earth to glorify Him.”
Shipman has been the campus minister at Vincennes University for the past 25 years. That work led to the creation of Helping His Hands Disaster Response, a short-term mission organization that specializes in disaster response. But Helping His Hands has become so much more.
Traveling to hurricane ravaged cities or communities leveled by tornadoes is only one aspect of Helping His Hands ministry. In Vincennes the organization operates an independent food pantry that serves 1,400 a month, and a homeless shelter for families called the “House of Hope.”
Dozens of volunteers help to provide assistance to those who, for any reason, are unable to help themselves. Shipman insists that such assistance is not a hand out, but a hand up. The organization provides for those in need, and also works to help people become self-sufficient.
“We know we cannot help everyone or fix everything,” he said. “But we try to help people so that they can be positive citizens in the community.”
Shipman has earned the Dr. N. Philip Shelton Humanitarian award from the Vincennes Kiwanis Club, and he is the recent recipient of Vincennes Civitan’s “Citizen of the Year” award. But he said his work isn’t about awards, giving credit to the people who volunteer to help him help others.
“I cannot do all of these things by myself,” he said. “God has blessed us with volunteers all of whom deserve more credit than me.”
Shipman’s efforts to help those in need has reaped tremendous benefits. From the building on Main Street, to disaster response equipment and the pole barn which houses it, nearly everything has been put in place with the help of donations. Cash donations helped buy the Main Street building, a Christian church in Moore, Okla., paid for the pole barn, and numbers of people and organizations have donated or discounted equipment and other items that help keep Helping His Hands in operation.
It is a remarkable achievement.
“It is all in God’s hands,” Shipman said. “We do not go out and beg for money or things. That’s the one thing we really don’t like to do. We pray that God will help us and trust that he will. So many people have been very generous and we are thankful for that.”
Text to tithe
The Helping His Hands ministry relies on donations, and not anyone who wishes to donate to the organization may do so by simply sending a text message. This “new way” of donating, Shipman said, is the brainchild of Hannah Meyer, the organization’s recently-hired administrative director, who has a college degree in philanthropic studies.
“All you do is text 4144, then type HHH in the message box,” Shipman said. “After you send that message you get a link for a web page where one can contribute what they want — they can even type in an amount — and then they will be on a list we can contact whenever there is a disaster, so people can decide to either volunteer or donate.”
Helping His Hands Disaster Response began at VU’s Christian Campus Fellowship in 1993, when Shipman took a handful of students to help flood victims along the Mississippi River. With students he continued to help disaster-stricken areas over the years. With Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were 20 different crews in and out of affected areas. The organization helped victims of the Joplin, Mo. tornado in 2011.
It was after helping victims of a tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when Shipman got the feeling that God wanted him to do more, to help more people.
“This was weighing heavy on my heart,” he said.
Driving back from Tuscaloosa with his son, Joshua, Helping His Hands was born. They were discussing giving people a hand, and reflected on having provided a helping hand to those in need in Alabama.
“That’s where our name came from,” he said.
Since its inception, Helping His Hands Disaster Response has helped victims in more than a dozen states. Shipman learned building trades and operating heavy equipment from his father when he was young.
“I never knew how God would have me use that,” Shipman said. “It’s the same with the people who volunteer to help us. Everyone has gifts and talents.”
Late on a Thursday afternoon, several people are gathered around tables in the lobby of the Helping His Hands food pantry located at 1107 Main St. Each of them has an appointment to “shop” with a pantry volunteer for various food items on hand.
“We’re able to give out a little of everything, depending on what we have available,” Shipman said.
Recipients must make an appointment, though, and the pantry is only open for certain hours on specified days. Volunteers also pray with food recipients before they leave.
“We ask if we can pray for them,” he said. “We ask them ‘what do you want us to pray for?'”
Food recipients are sometimes surprised, at first, but when they return the next time they usually have a list of things to pray for, he said.
“We don’t push religion on anyone,” Shipman said. “We want people to know that God loves them, that they are special and cared for, and loved.”
Much of the food comes from the Midwest Food Bank in Indianapolis. Other entities, such as Farbest Foods and Perdue Farms donate food, too. Helping His Hands always is accepting donations.
“Midwest Food Bank liked what they saw when they came here last January,” Shipman said. “They now partner with us in food distribution.”
The food pantry on Main Street in Vincennes, with ample warehouse space, is now a distribution center for Midwest Food Bank, serving 15 southwest Indiana community food pantries. Shipman estimates that the Vincennes facility will service up to 30 different food pantries in the coming year.
“From September (2015) to this April we have helped distribute more than half a million dollars in food,” he said. “We will do over $1 million this year. It is really cool how God has opened doors for us.”
In helping those less fortunate, Shipman wanted to do something for families that had lost their homes. Helping His Hands bought a structure from PACE Community Action Agency on Reel Avenue in Vincennes for that purpose. The building once housed a church. It has been modified to house families in need.
“We wanted to create a House of Hope, a home where there is hope,” he said. “It is to help families get back on their feet. It’s not just a place where people can stay indefinitely.”
Those in need get shelter and more. Evaluations are conducted and families must be willing to abide by the organization’s program and rules. Length of stay is no more than six to eight months, and families must work to get themselves back on their feet. Parenting classes, financial classes, and job seeking services are part of the regimen.
“Each family has a mentor who helps them with these things,” Shipman said. “The mentor stays with them for six months, and they continue to make contact with them after they leave the shelter, to help them in practicing what they learned.”
If individuals refuse to take part in the program, or do not abide by its rules, they are warned and only have three months before they are asked to leave.
“This is a privilege,” Shipman said. “It’s not for everyone.”
There are problems inherent with such work, Shipman says. Some people may have drug or alcohol issues, lack of steady employment, and more.
“Christianity is messy sometimes,” Shipman said. “It’s not all wrapped up in bows, neat and tidy. We do not allow drinking, smoking, or drug use. Our thinking is this: If you can buy cigarettes or alcohol, but can’t put a roof over your family’s heads, we have a problem. We try to get them to see that, to get their priorities straight.
“We know things are going to happen,” he continued. “We cannot expect people to quit smoking overnight, for instance, but they do have to be accountable and they must be willing to try. We want to get down in the trenches with them, to help them, to educate them. Tears have already been shed with this, both good and bad.”
This summer, Helping His Hands has been busy building ramps for handicapped people. Volunteers have built portable ramps at people’s home in Vincennes, Bicknell, Wheatland, Lawrenceville, Bridgeport, Robinson, and more.
“We’ve been busy,” Shipman says. “We’ve done 12 so far this year, with some of them we partnered with other organizations, like ATTIC.”
He also wants people to know about a new Front Port Project, where adolescents and teens are paired with adults to learn how to do things, such as create a woodworking project or paint a picture.
“We get adults with the kids so that we can tap into a child’s creative side,” he said. “Kids today either sit in front of the T.V. or play video games. It is a way to help them learn to be creative. Then, we will sell their work at our Front Porch, here on Main Street.”
Shipman would like for Helping His Hands to expand in all four directions throughout the United States, and the planning for such an ambitious endeavor is underway now. Because of the help the organization has provided, Helping His Hands has contacts in several states.
Shipman says he is grooming his hopeful successor at VU’s Christian Campus Fellowship, so that he can devote all of his time and energy to Helping His Hands. The organization’s current success make it seem like expansion is not only possible, but likely.
But Shipman is quick to point out that it isn’t entirely up to him, his board of directors, or even the volunteers who give selflessly of their time.
“Only if it’s God’s will,” he said. “God knows what he wants to do with us. It’s up to Him.”
By Bernie Schmitt