Mar. 10, 2011
A multi-faceted interfaith network to feed the hungry and provide shelter to the homeless.
Community Contact Information:
Congregation Beth Yam
Hilton Head Island, SC
- To raise awareness of the level of poverty that exists locally and the limited ability of social services organizations
- To bring together area residents of all faiths for the first time to address local poverty issues
- To create a sustained solution for identifying and implementing programs to address local poverty issues
Congregation Beth Yam started the Hunger and Homeless Coalition, an interfaith network of local synagogues and churches, to feed the hungry and provide shelter to the homeless. The coalition has implemented several local programs, including Backpack Buddies, a soup kitchen and a directory of resources for those in need.
The coalition began with a “Help – I’m Hungry,” forum, which brought to light the significant problem of local poverty. The forum featured a panel of area mayors, representatives from local charities and social service organizations and a social worker from the county school district.
Initially, the forum was planned for the congregation, but was later expanded to encompass the entire community. Invitations and follow-up phone calls were extended to more 30 local churches as well as to 10 social service organizations. Posters were distributed and displayed at local businesses. An ad was put in the local newspaper and press releases sent to both the Union for Reform Judaism and local media. In addition, arrangements were made with the local newspaper to have a reporter and photographer cover the forum.
More than 175 people attended the forum. Donations of non-perishable foods were collected. At the conclusion of the forum, attendees who were interested in helping address these issues were asked to register for a follow-up meeting to implement steps to help the hungry and homeless.
That follow-up meeting occurred one month later. Congregation Beth Yam facilitated the meeting of more than 20 people from six churches, social service organizations and local schools. As a result, the Hunger and Homeless Coalition was organized.
A variety of ideas were discussed at the initial meeting, but it was clear that all of them could not be implemented at once. A decision was made to begin with Backpack Buddies, a program to provide food for elementary school students to eat over the weekend, when they do not receive free or subsidized lunches at school. A second group began researching ways to address the problem of homelessness while Backpack Buddies was implemented.
Backpack Buddies: The Hunger and Homeless Coalition’s Backpack Buddies Program is affiliated with a local food bank and national hunger relief organization. The coalition chose to implement the Backpack Buddies program at three local elementary schools, where the principals and guidance counselors chose the 50 neediest children to receive a weekly backpack filled with nonperishable and nutritious meals. The students receive the backpacks on Friday, with enough food for the weekend, and return the backpacks on Monday. Volunteers refill the backpacks and bring them back to the school each Friday for distribution.
Backpack Buddies is funded by donations. To run the program, volunteers drive to the local food bank to pick up the food each month. The food is stored at one of the churches, where the packing is done weekly. The Hunger and Homeless Coalition’s ultimate goal will be to provide meals for all needy children each year so no child will go hungry on the weekend.
Research Committee: The second program by the Hunger and Homeless Coalition has been the formation of a committee to investigate and begin to meet the needs of the local homeless population. This committee has already developed a community resource list to be given to a homeless person when the police are involved. This resource list helps the homeless person find temporary shelter, food and clothing.
Soup Kitchen: The coalition’s homelessness committee is also working with three churches to provide soup and sandwiches each weekday at a local Catholic church. In addition, they collect and distribute warm jackets, sweaters, shoes, towels, wash cloths, etc. for the homeless. The committee is investigating how to serve the homeless individuals who live in the woods of Hilton Head Island in the warm weather, but who have no shelter from winter weather. The Hunger and Homeless Coalition’s ultimate goal is to have a homeless shelter on the island.
The Hunger and Homeless Coalition is the direct result of Congregation Beth Yam’s “Help – I’m Hungry” program. In just six months, this interfaith group is already providing weekend meals for 50 children and has initiated broader community involvement in a local soup kitchen and taken the first steps toward the establishment of a homeless shelter.