Stories of Service: The Hope Center

Congratulations to The Hope Center of Petersburg – winner of the 2020 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award for Outstanding Community Organization! The Hope Center, which serves as the community outreach of Downtown Churches United, Inc. (DCU), contributes more than 14,000 hours of service to the Petersburg community annually. Providing hunger and financial relief services, The Hope Center operates the Daily Feeding Program, which includes a food pantry, help with paying utility bill payments, and regular blood pressure screenings.

The Hope Center is Petersburg’s largest social service charity dedicated to alleviating hunger. Access to healthy food and hunger are critical problems in Petersburg. The City is a food desert meaning there is limited access to affordable, nutritious food with most people not living within a mile of a full service grocery store. Given the high rate of residents receiving public assistance, The Hope Center is a lifeline for many to receive a nutritious meal, healthy groceries, and financial assistance.

The Daily Feeding Program provides a hot lunch for more than 80 people a day with servers from a mix of Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant congregation. Open Monday through Friday and two Sundays each month, the program is operated by a different organization providing a hot lunch for 80+ people a day from 12:00-12:45 pm. Often, these groups will bring toiletries or other gifts for the diners. Sometimes, there is music and singing or other entertainment. At other times, the meal may be accompanied by a health education talk or screening with Southside Regional Medical Center often providing health care professionals.

The food pantry operates approximately 20 hours a week and distributes groceries to an average of 175 households a week. Volunteers process, sort and distribute food donations. Every other month, volunteers deliver groceries to 70 seniors who qualify for food assistance at Gilhaven Manor, a senior apartment building, because they are physically incapable of getting to The Hope Center. The Utility Assistance Program operates during the same hours as the Food Pantry and volunteers assist neighbors who are facing disconnection or termination of service for water, electricity and/or gas.

Serving as a successful model of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation, The Hope Center joins together people of different faith traditions to work on a common mission to alleviate hunger. By engaging with direct service at The Hope Center, many organizations are led to delve deeper into the root causes of hunger and poverty and engage the issues in other ways. As a result, many helpers naturally see a need to engage state and federal legislators on hunger advocacy. VSU Mass Communications Instructor Will Harris uses The Hope Center as a “laboratory” for his students who spend 10-15 hours a semester working in the Food Pantry and assisting the Daily Feeding Program to better understand community engagement. Students remark about how much they learn about organization, efficiency, nutrition and the need to engage public policy with respect to hunger issues.

Ultimately, The Hope Center is a place where just about anyone can serve in a meaningful way to show love, compassion, and hope to our neighbors who are in the midst of economic insecurity. Indeed, as “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

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