As the Manager of Volunteer Programs at New Hope Housing, a non-profit with a mission to end homelessness, Sami Smyth’s normal Thanksgiving revolves around visiting different homeless shelters, mingling with shelter residents while eating Thanksgiving staples, and talking and thanking volunteers who help feed families during the holiday.
This year, she’s not making the rounds but staying at home. While she is sad that her tradition is on hold, she knows that keeping everyone safe is the most important thing. Rather than mass gatherings, this year New Hope Housing is helping their residents with food baskets ensuring everyone has access to a Thanksgiving meal.
COVID-19 has increased the number of people facing food insecurity and forced non-profits across the country to change how they serve the public. While New Hope Housing’s focus is on ending homelessness and not necessarily that of anti-hunger, Ms. Smyth explains, “when you’re homeless, a lot of times you also face a lot of food insecurity.”
On any given night, New Hope Housing provides over 400 people with a variety of support services including food distribution, emergency shelter, permanent housing support throughout Arlington and Fairfax counties. Through new partnerships with county governments, New Hope Housing has decreased the number of people staying at their shelters, which are often small, compact, and with little room to social distance. They also focus on alternative housing for those with underlying health issues, who are older, who are more susceptible to the virus. At just one of the six hotels they master-leased, 80 people now have access to safer housing.
Ms. Smyth shared all these details and more with RSVP volunteers on the monthly Zoom RSVP meet-up on November 18th. She spoke of their volunteers, who are redirecting their efforts into helping the homeless have access to healthy meals.
Volunteers have stepped up. Shelley Brosnan is one of them. Every week Ms. Brosnan drops off 30 bagged lunches at one of New Hope Housing’s facilities. “When you don’t have enough food,” Ms. Brosnan said, “you lose energy, your mind is in a fog. It makes a big difference – especially for children.” This hit home one day when she dropped off her donations at a school where families had already gathered to receive help.
The need is still there, and while New Hope Housing and other non-profit organizations are stepping up to fill the gap, more help is still needed. For those who can donate their time or supplies, reach out to a local organization working to end hunger. For, as Ms. Brosnan put it, “Food is family. Food is love.” When the virus seems to have separated us from each other for a bit, remember what has been the center of families for centuries – food. Help make sure everyone has access to a meal. There is no reason that a person should be suffering from hunger.