ESK_6121aMartha Macris is the president and CEO of Memorial Assistance Ministries.

Talk about the history of MAM—why was it founded?

MAM, like many assistance ministries in Houston, started in the 1980s because of the oil bust. Churches started getting together, and realized they needed to get organized to help their communities. In this area, the Memorial and Spring Branch churches got together and said, what we want to do is have a thrift store to raise money, then use that money to help people who are having financial difficulties—with rent, paying utilities, getting to the doctor, that sort of thing. Over the next two decades the organization grew as the store became more profitable.

You’re based in Spring Branch, but your service area is enormous. How do you manage to cover so much territory?

We work with the United Way 211 hotline. People in outlying areas call 211, and say they need food, help with rent, or something like that. Then United Way refers them to us. We also have a relationship with the Multi-Service Center in Acres Homes, and we’re up there one day a week helping families. It’s important to understand that with the rental payments, most of the recipients just use it once. It’s a population that’s barely scraping by, and once in awhile they might need a little help.

Andres Ramirez, ESL TeacherSo this is just temporary assistance when the situation is really bad?

Right. And we also provide many other services to help people find employment, to learn English as a second language, to provide financial education, mental health counseling.

Have you noticed an increased demand for your services due to the downturn in oil prices?

It’s been a very interesting year, because we’ve been waiting and waiting to see an increase in demand for assistance and employment services. Right now, unemployment insurance is running out for the people who got laid off, or their savings have run out. We’ve begun to see a spike, beginning in July. It’s about a 25 percent increase, and I suspect it’s going to be even higher by the end of August. The good news is that people are getting jobs. There are jobs in other sectors, there are jobs in other parts of the city. It may take a little longer than it has in the past, but the families who are coming to us for employment assistance are finding work.

Shoppers in the MAM Resale Store Book DepartmentYou’ve worked with the Spring Branch Management District on a number of programs, including your annual back-to-school assistance drive—talk about that.

We have committed to providing clothing for children in Spring Branch ISD. It costs about $50 a child to provide shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and shoes for a child going to school here. The District has been very generous, giving us a $20,000 grant towards that. We spend over $200,000 a year on the program, so their gift is really significant. The District also supports our employment services with a grant of $5,000 a year to support our staff and computer lab, so we can help people find work. And I know the District has been very dedicated to economic development, so it’s a perfect fit. We can help create good employees for the businesses that want to open here.

Memorial Assistance Ministries. 1625 Blalock Road. 713-468-4516.