The H(ope).O(pportunity). P(rayer). E(ncouragement). House
The morning sun still has sleep in its eyes when Sol arrives at the H.O.P.E. House for the 6:30 a.m. shift. His hands quickly reach for frozen meat, milk, cheese, celery, lettuce, and other items that fill one of 50 cold bags he’ll assemble for hungry families—all before he heads off to his job. Sol is one of about 30 faithful volunteers who help to make the H.O.P.E. House Food Ministry and its simple mission possible, “to help those that need some extra help by supplementing their food and clothing needs.” The H.O.P.E. House is open every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to noon to income-qualified individuals and families for food distribution. The clothing ministry, which provides donated clothes and small household goods at no cost, is open every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (weather conditions permitting).
The H.O.P.E. House’s journey began in 2011, with the help of Saint Vincent DePaul who initiated the idea of distributing food to far East Contra Costa. After a year, the Brentwood Community United Methodist Church (BCUMC) took over the operation beginning with about 150 registered families from Brentwood, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, and Oakley. At about the same time, a separate building posthumously donated by Agnes Bonde, became home to the H.O.P.E. House. Although participation has no religious requirement, BCUMC trustees provide the use of the H.O.P.E. House free of charge. The story of the H.O.P.E. House is one of deep devotion by its selfless volunteers to serve those in need, one of abundant generosity from its community partners, and one of such unyielding faith that, even when the H.O.P.E. House faced closure, its purpose to serve those in need would somehow prevail.
OUR VOLUNTEERS ~ OUR CLIENTS
About 30 volunteers make it possible to provide at least three grocery bags per family visit on Mondays and Wednesdays most every week of the year. Volunteers also assist with duties on Fridays and Sundays that involve receiving and processing food deliveries from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties (FBCCSC) and White Pony Express (WPE). On its regular client days, upwards of 12 volunteers are needed to support the food and clothing ministry’s 11-year efforts to to deliver about 150 food bags each operational day. They volunteer alone, in pairs, and as families. They might only volunteer for a little while; some have been there from the beginning. They fill bags, register clients, sort donated clothing, discard food past its prime, organize the food pantry, restock shelves, mop and clean, and manage the paperwork required by our various partners. Most importantly, they greet and welcome H.O.P.E. House clients. In 2021, H.O.P.E. House volunteers helped to put food into about 7,000 mouths, representing roughly 2,000 client visits and 500 families ranging in size from 1 to 12. About 60% came from Brentwood, 29% from Oakley, and the rest came from neighboring far East Contra Costa. Volunteers range in ages from 14 to 88 years young.
“This year, the Safeway Foundation granted H.O.P.E. House $3,000 at the most crucial time possible—when it was facing closure.”
“The H.O.P.E. House’s journey began in 2011, with the help of Saint Vincent DePaul who initiated the idea of distributing food to Far East Contra Costa.”
The food H.O.P.E. House distributes comes from several major partners including the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. The FBCCSC represents the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provides food through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a free food assistance program for low-income families. FBCCSC partners with the H.O.P.E. House to assure that it meets all federal requirements to be an official food pantry site, which include standards on cleanliness, food handling, inventory control, civil rights, and non-discrimination protection.
The H.O.P.E. House is honored to be a TEFAP-designated food pantry. To be eligible for USDA TEFAP commodities, recipients certify under penalty of perjury that they meet the TEFAP Income Guideline of 235% of current Federal Poverty Level. This program is one of the last safety net programs available to people who are in desperate need. TEFAP ensures there are no added barriers to receiving the assistance beyond the income self-attestation. From October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021, 93,441,277 pounds of food were distributed under California’s TEFAP. For each registered TEFAP family, the H.O.P.E. House receives a monthly shipment of food that contains a frozen meat protein, beverage, dairy, pasta/rice/beans, and a variety of canned fruit/vegetables/meats. To apply for food assistance through TEFAP, please visit the H.O.P.E. House during its distribution hours.
Our essential partner, The White Pony Express, provides a significant amount of food “rescued” from restaurants and grocery stores that our volunteers receive and sort on Sundays. On Fridays, volunteers travel to Antioch to pick up and deliver food that the H.O.P.E. House purchases through donations and grants, as well as food donated through the FBCCSC. The BCUMC parishioners are another source of both monetary and in-kind donations, particularly to the clothing ministry, as is Brentwood’s Old Navy store. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the clothing ministry provides no-cost clothes, blankets, towels, toiletries, and small household items. However, given the very small storage space, donations are limited to the current season. Local farmers also contribute some of their harvests to the H.O.P.E. House. On the second and fourth Tuesday at about 3:00 p.m., the FBCCSC provides free fresh produce from the BCUMC’s side street. Patrons are asked to bring their own bags.
The hardest working partners are those who help with the building. Recently, when this tiny home needed help the most, our community partners stepped up. Each time the H.O.P.E. House needed a repair, the company that responded donated its services without being asked. McCauley Pest Control Services help keep the building safe from pests; Rodda Electric upgraded the electrical for nine refrigerators; Sexton Heating and Air repaired the ventilation ductwork; Scheer Home Security and Elite Defense Security installed a security system and donated monitoring; the Tyler Williams Family donated their time to install the clothing ministry’s shade cover and repair a damaged door; Head Out Hauling donated hauling services, and Lowe’s of Brentwood provided a deep discount for a replacement freezer. And we count 110° Magazine as a partner for helping us get the word out about the H.O.P.E. House. Of course, throughout H.O.P.E. House’s 11 years, many other partners provided significant support including the Brentwood Lions Club, and everyday citizens who donate money, clothing, and even cereal boxes. For these and others who are not noted in this article, we are deeply grateful.
These are unprecedented times, with inflation increasing food costs beyond reach for many families. For those struggling to get by, food banks are an essential part of survival. But even food banks have their struggles as they are usually solely funded through unpredictable grant cycles and in-kind/cash donations. This year, the Safeway Foundation granted H.O.P.E House $3,000 at the most crucial time possible—when it was facing closure. When Jerry Walton, Director of eight years retired, the assumption was H.O.P.E. House would close. Both Antioch and Pittsburg-based food pantries closed in 2022. Aside from financing difficulties, recruiting and retaining volunteers is difficult. Jerry did an amazing job keeping the pantry open, even refusing to close during the height of the pandemic until the virus made its way inside the H.O.P.E. House and a short closure was necessary. But permanently close, it did not. Another grant was received from FEMA that would cover most of the needed 2022 Food Bank purchases, and most recently, the City of Brentwood granted the H.O.P.E. House $2,500.
Since grant cycles are unpredictable, the H.O.P.E. House’s search for sustainable funding continues for not only food, but also for operational expenses such as electric, gas, garbage, water, and maintenance. Because so many families depend on us, we must be confident in our funding to assure that we are going to be around for the next decade. With that, we continue applying for grants and appealing to our wonderful community for support. A big thank you to our volunteers, to the BCUMC trustees for the use of the Agnes Bonde home, and to our community partners for your support!