[Editor’s note: The full names of clients of Hope House, a faith-based food pantry, have been withheld for privacy reasons.]
“Some months we don’t need assistance, but other months we don’t have any [money],” Stephanie said as she sat in the foyer of an old Ottawa building, waiting to pick up a box of food for her family of four.
Downstairs, in the basement of the former church, a young man in a stocking cap inspected a toddler-sized pink coat with a Dalmatian-spotted hood.
“This will be perfect,” he said.
Beverly Hjorth smiled back at him.
Hjorth, a 13-year volunteer who manages the clothing section of Hope House, said the faith-based food pantry, clothing and emergency housing assistance center does its best to keep all types of clothing in stock for Franklin County residents in need.
People flocked to the corner of South Third and Walnut streets Tuesday morning at Hope House, 302 S. Walnut St., Ottawa, to pick up boxes of food and clothing items for their families.
Serving Franklin County since 1990, Hope House is a nonprofit, non-denominational Christian emergency relief organization that provides assistance for the basic necessities of individuals and families through the food pantry, emergency housing assistance, clothing and other miscellaneous aid, organization representatives said. The food pantry is supported by churches, businesses, individuals and the Franklin County United Way.
Stephanie, whose job and part of the family’s income went by the wayside when she was disabled with Crohn’s disease, said she tries not to come to Hope House every month — just when her family needs some assistance.
“My husband has a job, but when your income is knocked down next to nothing and you have house payments and car payments, sometimes you need some help,” Stephanie said. “We are very thankful to have the Hope House in our community. They help a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to survive without them.”
Mary Lois Yates, Hope House coordinator who has been with the organization since its inception about 23 years ago, said the center’s food pantry helped 321 households, 671 adults, 461 children and 23 seniors in October.
“We see the need continuing to grow,” she said.
Franklin County residents who qualify for assistance may come to Hope House once a month for food, Yates said. The center is open 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. the second Saturday of each month. About 50 volunteers help put together boxes of food, sort clothing and perform other tasks to make the center run smoothly, Yates said.
Franklin County residents also can peruse the clothing section located in the basement of Hope House once a week, Hjorth said. People do not have to meet any income requirements to obtain clothing at Hope House, she said.
“There is no charge and no questions asked,” Hjorth said. “We try to keep all types of clothing — we have from infants to [adult men’s] 5X and 6X.”
Brenda, who was disabled in a motorcycle crash about three years ago, accompanied her friend Stephanie to pick up food Tuesday.
“I was in the hospital for several months and suffered a bad head injury and [other injuries] that left me disabled,” Brenda said. “They foreclosed on my home [in Richmond] while I was in the hospital. I receive Social Security, but it’s not always enough [to buy food].”
Residents can choose from such items as canned vegetables, canned fruit, baking goods, soups, cereals, meat and other foodstuffs. About two months ago, Hope House started serving as a center for government surplus commodities — via Harvesters — which help supplement what the relief organization can provide to its clients, Yates said, referring to residents who seek food and other assistance at the center.
Dick Martin, longtime volunteer and Hope House board member, said Hope House couldn’t survive without the donations it receives from churches, businesses, organizations, the United Way and individuals in the community who keep the shelves stocked and the volunteers who help run the center.
“Country Mart donates baked goods like breads, rolls, pies and cakes; Pizza Hut donates pizzas and a guy from Dollar General brought in [several] pillows the other day,” Martin said. “All those donations add up. When a pallet is damaged at Wal-Mart distribution center, they donate the undamaged food from the pallet, and the Walmart [Supercenter] will donate surplus seasonal clothing items.”
Individuals also donate items. A man dropped off a turkey Tuesday morning, and another brought in a bag of clothes. A local church donated several cases of canned vegetables, which volunteers were busy sorting onto shelves Tuesday.
Tim Dreiling, a retired Ottawa resident who began volunteering at Hope House several months ago, was busy Tuesday morning breaking down 5-pound bags of sugar into plastic bags containing 1 1/2 cups for inclusion in boxes of food to be distributed to clients. When he finished, he turned to filling individual plastic bags with two cups of flower.
“After I retired, I needed something to do, and I wanted to help people,” Dreiling said.
Martin, also retired, said Dreiling is not unlike many of the volunteers at the center who enjoy the work because they know they are helping others as part of Hope House’s faith-based mission.
Hjorth, volunteer and Hope House board president, said she enjoys talking with clients, many of whom she knows by name.
“I had a young man come in today that asked me to pray with him for his mother. She is ill,” Hjorth said. “I was touched by that. It’s not uncommon to have people ask you to pray with them. And you learn about them and their families. Some come in to talk with other [clients]. There’s a camaraderie that develops, and I think that’s good.”
Through the years, Hjorth said, she has seen some residents who received a helping hand come back and volunteer at Hope House when they get back on their feet.
“There was a girl that moved [to the area] from California and didn’t have any winter clothes, so she came here,” Hjorth said. “That was five or six years ago, and she still talks about that experience and how much [Hope House] helped her. Now, she comes in to volunteer sometimes.”
With winter setting in, Hope House is in need of gloves, socks and coats, Hjorth said. She said the community always has been good about providing assistance to the organization — whether it be through individuals, churches, businesses, organizations or schools that sometimes hold clothing drives.
Yates said she sees new faces mixed in with clients she has come to know.
Hope House has helped clients with a variety of emergency housing needs through its grant and loan programs, such as an elderly, disabled woman who had a sewer back-up in her trailer, or a man who needed steel-toed boots for his employment, but who otherwise could not have afforded them.
The increased need for assistance in the county and across the country comes not from a higher unemployment rate, but from the quality of jobs that are available, including work that is only seasonal, Martin said.
“We need to recruit better quality jobs — a lot of people are living on minimum wage, or only work two or three months at a time [in seasonal jobs]. They cannot make it without some help,” he said. “I think it also has something to do with the disparity of income in this country.”
In addition to its volunteers and donations from every section of the community, memorials left with Hope House by individuals also contribute greatly to the organization’s ability to serve Franklin County residents, Martin said, citing the example of the center recently adding a delivery door and an all-weather staging area in the back of the building to serve both the clothing and food portions of the operation. The project was paid for through memorial gifts, he said.
For the coming holiday, a church donated 59 Thanksgiving sacks of food and other items, which were put into a drawing, Yates said. More than 125 people signed up for the drawing, she said.
“Everyone was very appreciative [of the Thanksgiving sacks],” she said. “We had one young girl say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never won anything in my life.’”
Each day the center is open starts with a time of prayer for volunteers and clients, Yates said.
“We think it’s a good way to start the day,” Yates said Tuesday. “This morning, one [client] said they were thankful for sobriety. Several others said they were thankful for Hope House.”
Cretia, a rural Franklin County resident, was one of those clients who said she was thankful for Hope House.
“I first came here about 10 years ago when I needed food for my children,” Cretia said. “I’ve been coming off and on since then. Now I come for eight people — four in my family and four grandchildren. I’m thankful all our family is safe and will be together this Thanksgiving. And I’m thankful for Hope House. A lot of people couldn’t make it without them.”