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There is Nothing Like Hope House

by Stephen M. Kent

Hope House has a simple business plan: Look to God for the inventory, look to Christ in its distribution.

With that philosophy, Hope House annually provides emergency services to more than 10,000 needy men, women and children in Whatcom County.

Stories of Hope: Hope HouseOperating from a two-story house on the grounds of Assumption Parish in Bellingham, Hope House is the place for immediate assistance when the food bank is closed or when a person’s paper work must go through public assistance channels.

Few questions are asked.

“We take them at their word,” said Cheri Woolsey, program manager.

The CCS program began in 2000 when Father Jay DeFolco, then pastor of Assumption Parish, approached Catholic Community Services, Woolsey said.

“They spent several months looking for holes in service so there would be no duplication,” she said. “They found there was no place in the Bellingham area for people to get clothing.”

Woolsey, who works part-time, is the only paid staff. Approximately 60 volunteers assist her, she said. Most are from Assumption Parish; others come from St. Paul Episcopal Church. Still others are people from the community at large who want to volunteer.

Hope House is open mornings three days a week, Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

One foggy September morning, a constant stream of people most of them parents with their children came to the door of the white house with bright red trim.

Inside, they were greeted, then shown to folding chairs in a waiting area of the living room, surrounded by orderly racks of clothing.

In command of the room with the self-assurance that comes naturally to a blonde, blue-eyed 3-year-old, Madison Paine, a favorite of the staff, wandered around, cookie in hand.

“There is nothing like Hope House,” said Tom Paine, Madison’s grandfather. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.

“My daughter asked me to look after her daughter because she has problems,” said Paine, who said he is waiting for his disability claim to be approved.

His income is sufficient to cover rent, he said, but “I have zero extra money after rent. No money for diapers or clothes.”

Paine is typical of those who benefit from Hope House.

“It’s a mix,” Woolsey said. “The homeless, single mothers, the working poor, those working but not making it for the month.”

In helping those people “we are serving Christ,” Woolsey said. “We see him in each person we serve.”

After a brief interview with Woolsey in a private room, clients are given a laundry basket and are free to browse for their needs.

The clients like the atmosphere of a house, saying it is warm and cozy,” Woolsey said. Clients are limited to 20 visits per year.

Hope House is the emergency source for the food bank across the street when it is closed, and distributes 24-hour emergency food supplies, Woolsey said. “We are a basic needs emergency
service.“ In addition to clothes, clients can obtain bedding, some household utensils, toys for their children, and some appreciated extras.

The “Above and Beyond Shop” provides cosmetics, shampoo and toiletries items that cannot be purchased with food stamps. A “Start Over Kit” is a package of cooking utensils and household goods for women coming from domestic violence shelters whomight have left home with only the clothes on their back, Woolsey said.

All clothing is donated, and United Way provides a small grant for personal supplies. In September, the five Haggen Food and Pharmacy stores in Whatcom County accepted donations for diapers and other baby products for Hope House. “Some 900 dozen were donated and that will see us through until early Spring,” Woolsey said. “We have some really generous people in town who are very supportive, who have a heart for Hope House.”

“We put a lot of trust in God,” Woolsey said. “He has been with us each and every day. When we need something, it comes. It just happens.”

Hope House also operates an outreach to people on the street. Each Thursday evening, a van filled with sack lunches and small personal items, such as toiletries, socks and underwear, goes to areas where homeless and street people are known to congregate.

“We make the sandwiches with lots of love and with the best bread,” said Theresa Meurs, who coordinates the street outreach.

She recalled being asked about the quality of bread she was purchasing while standing in line at a checkout counter. When she told the person it was for homeless people, the person asked: “Why not get the less expensive loaves?”

“If I’m having Christ for lunch, that is what I would serve him,” Meurs replied.

From Samaritan Magazine - Volume 3 Number 2 - Fall 2007

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