A Carbon County group working to ease the plight of homeless families has been granted tax-exempt status. The 501 (c) 3 status designates Family Promise as a Public Charity.

The title means Family Promise "won't have to pay federal income tax, and donations are tax deductible," said director Larissa Kimmel.

Organizers began laying the groundwork for the program, in which churches would take turns housing homeless families, last winter. Now, seven churches have signed up, Kimmel said.

"We only need six more churches to have enough host churches to be able to have the program running," she said. Family Promise also needs to have day center plans finalized, something Kimmel sees happening fairly soon.

"We're really getting there," she said. "Now, the key part is getting our funding behind us." The money is expected to come from both private and public contributions. "We're planning community outreach and we'll seek grants," kimmel said.

She said the group has received about $1,000 so far.

The next meeting is at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 in the dining hall of Zion United Church of Christ, Lehighton.

Family Promise was formed in the late1980s, after New Jersey marketing executive Karen Olsen realized homeless families' need for shelter, food, social connection and dignity. Family Promise now operates in at least 39 states.

The program revolves around a hub called the Interfaith Hospitality Network: congregations that take turns providing a week's shelter and support to families. The families sleep and eat - family-style with program volunteers - at the church building, then are taken to a day center where they can shower, get children off to school and begin their day's work, meeting with human services agencies, looking for jobs and attending counseling sessions. Each congregation will host families about four or five weeks a year.

Local Family Promise volunteers say there is a need for their services in Carbon County, especially given the tumultuous economy of the past year.