Harrisonburg Nonprofit Helps Those In Need During Coronavirus Crisis

Mar 23, 2020

A local Harrisonburg nonprofit has been providing and promoting social well-being to the citizens of Rockingham County for years.  Hope Distributed provides relief to low-income individuals and families with food and clothing in a dignified and respectful manner. 

WMRA’s Chris Boros spoke with the group’s director Jeff Wilhelm and their administrator Ellen Braun about how the group is operating during the Coronavirus outbreak.  Chris asked Ellen to describe the group’s mission.

This interview had production assistance from WMRA's Sara Amin.

Ellen Braun: The main mission is to help those in the greatest need with food, clothing, and home furnishings.

WMRA: And how do you go about helping someone who needs those things?

EB: We have a food pantry and we're open eight times a month. We have a free clothing store, that’s open two times a month. We keep a running list of those that have called requesting furnishings for a home if they’ve just become not homeless and are put into a house or an apartment, or if they are struggling after a fire, or if they’re just down on their luck and need some more.

WMRA: And your organization specifically helps people in Rockingham County, right?

EB: Yes. We do have some from North Augusta, as it’s right here on our border, but yes mainly Rockingham County.

WMRA: Jeff, how has the mission changed since the Coronavirus crisis?

Jeff Willhelm: Honestly, with us, it hasn’t changed. In times like this, people need help. That’s all we have to cling to because with fear, anxiety, and just the craziness of what’s going on in our world, we haven’t changed anything. We’re still on the same hours, we’ve changed how we operate. We don’t have people actually come into the food pantry to pick out food, we have premade boxes with a drive thru. As far as what we do, our mission stays the same and were going be here no matter what’s going on, because people need help.

Hope Distributed is a member agency of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

WMRA: What type of services can you provide a person or a family that’s experiencing issues specifically because of the outbreak?

EB: We can provide food, we have USDA food, and at this point the guidelines are still in place for income limits. However, we do have food available during our pantry days and people can just come on those pantry days and get registered into the system and go away with a box of food that day.

WMRA: Have you seen an increase in people needing help at this time?

EB: We have. We’ve had several pantries since the Coronavirus came out and we did have an increase at each of those pantries.

WMRA: So, if someone is looking for help, the best way is to call Hope Distributed or just stop on by through that drive thru service like you talked about, Jeff? How do they do that?

JW: Well, they can do it either way. We’ve had people email us, some on Facebook, call us as well, and we’ve people that show up night of a pantry and we just register them on the spot. You know we’re here to provide a service and that’s what we’re going to do. So, call us, email us, or just show up and we’ll get you through.

WMRA: What originally sparked the mission behind Hope Distributed. How long have you guys been doing this and how did it all start?

JW: Well Hope Distributed started in 2004. Just some folks at Harrisonburg First Church of the Nazarene saw a need and they acted. So, one thing we’re talking about in our church right now is go, just going out and doing the work that needs to be done and that’s where it started. In 2018, we expanded, now we’re in our new building which is beautiful, and that’s how it started and where we came from.

WMRA: If there’s someone who wants to say volunteer to help Hope Distributed, are you accepting volunteers at this time? What is someone do, when they are a volunteer?

EB: I am. As volunteer coordinator, I am always looking for help, for long-term help. But in the immediacy, we need help getting the picks-up from the area grocery stores that donate to us, we need help sorting and organizing those items so that we can pack boxes, we need help packing boxes, and we need help loading vehicles on pantry night. So, if they just want to give me a call through the mainline of Hope Distributed, I’ll get them set up.