By Steve Vanderwolf
So where do all those canned goods, jars of peanut butter, and boxes of pasta that you so generously donate end up?
To satisfy our inquiring minds, we visited the HOPE Helps facilities in Oviedo on June 1, 2019.
HOPE was founded in 2006. The agency’s mission is “to prevent and reduce homelessness in Central Florida by equipping individuals and families to become self-sufficient through Housing, Outreach, Prevention and Education.”
On our arrival, we were greeted by Jackie Nitti, development manager, who gave us a brief introduction before we headed inside. Since the food pantry is active on Saturday mornings, we were able to see HOPE in action. It is a bustling place.
We started in the resource center where clients have access to computers and can work with caseworkers to update resumes, research job opportunities, refine financial and budgeting skills, and access additional resources. HOPE also assists clients with applications for food stamps, health care, and educational opportunities.
HOPE serves many working poor or temporarily unemployed individuals, many of whom have never been in crisis before, and helps them navigate this rough patch.
HOPE began in a small office in a tiny strip mall off of County Road 419 and, in 2017, moved into a new and expanded facility at 812 Eyrie Dr., Oviedo, behind Habaneros restaurant and Marty’s Auto Works off of W. Broadway Street.
This new space consists of two buildings. One is used for administrative purposes and the other houses the food pantry, volunteer break room, resource center, and office space. HOPE is now able to use private offices while caseworkers meet with clients, protecting clients’ confidential information as they discuss their personal situations.
As we moved on to the food pantry, clients were actively selecting their items. Jackie explained that HOPE is known as a “select” pantry where clients are allowed to choose their items independently as opposed to being given pre-selected items. The pantry was stocked with numerous canned and dry goods, bread, baked items, and fresh vegetables. We also toured a large storage area where donated items are received, categorized, and shelved for future distribution.
HOPE has established partnerships with local businesses such as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Wawa, Publix, and Panera for regular pickup of donated foods. Any food that has exceeded its freshness is donated to a local farm to feed animals so no food goes to waste.
Next, we moved onto the photo gallery which contains a chronological review of HOPE’s annual events. Here we heard about many of HOPE’s other activities including:
HOPE’s Interfaith Coalition (TPC is a member) is a grassroots compassion coalition whose objective is to bring positive change to the community and to identify and address issues particularly in the areas of poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
Kids of HOPE Enrichment Program which provides free lunches to children who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year but who may otherwise go hungry during the summer recess.
HOPE’s Emergency Network Service (HENS) which provides outreach through weekly visits to elderly, disabled, shut-ins, or those suffering from medical issues. Pantry items are delivered and, for many, this is their only regular contact with the outside world.
HOPE Chest which is a retail space that sells new and gently used items donated by the community. The HOPE Chest accepts clothing, shoes, sports gear, jewelry, bikes, furniture, housewares, etc.
Events/Outreach and Fundraising activities include the annual Sham Rock N Run 5K, Vision of HOPE Breakfast (volunteer breakfast and annual review), Kids of HOPE Back to School Bash, and Christmas in the City. For more information about these events, please visit HOPE’s website at www.hopehelps.org.
After the tour, we adjourned to the conference room where we watched a video which shared clients’ testimonies lovingly acknowledging the importance of HOPE and the services it supplies. The video was very moving and a few tears were shed.
Lastly, we moved as a group to The HOPE Chest thrift store to look over items currently on sale. Many were pleasantly surprised by the size of the store and its abundance of items for sale.
Watch the video to learn more about HOPE Helps: