Restoring Hope & Preserving Dignity

Each person comes to HOPE with a different story. While everyone’s story is unique, HOPE makes a difference in the lives of others when they help them to lighten their burdens. Since 2003, HOPE has served thousands of people–helping them move closer to a life of freedom and self-sufficiency.

Amidst previous hardships, HOPE became a second responder to those affected by hurricanes–specifically Katrina and Rita–and the flood of 2016. Resources like water, food, flood buckets, and help with complicated paperwork were available for people who had lost everything to these catastrophic events. These events changed the trajectory of HOPE’s footprint and direction–providing growth opportunities.

In 2018, HOPE became the only third-party provider of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Education and Training–helping those who receive SNAP benefits to get jobs. The following year, thanks to their many sponsors, including Baton Rouge General, Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation, and the Pennington Family Foundation, HOPE opened the doors to The Way to Work Learning Center, enabling clients to attend adult education classes, apply for certifications in the computer lab, and increase their employability.

In 2021, HOPE’s Client Choice Food Pantry opened Mr. Eddie’s Kitchen, a test kitchen offering live demonstrations of healthy and safe food preparations. At HOPE, families are fed with dignity by giving families and individuals their choice to “shop” for their family’s food needs in HOPE’s Client Choice Food Pantry.

“The Client Choice Food Pantry has been a great success,” says David Tidwell, HOPE Ministries Chief Operating Officer. “We serve about 4,000 individuals a year. This is a significant operation.” The Client Choice Food Pantry is open three days a week and features a setup similar to that of a small grocery store. Clients can grab a shopping cart and shop in a way that is dignified and allows them to think outside of the box of just fast food or canned goods. While clients are waiting to shop, they can watch healthy food demonstrations in the test kitchen in the waiting area. Giving clients the option to choose what they want helps to preserve a sense of dignity and autonomy–the very things HOPE values.

Another way that HOPE helps clients become self-sufficient is through the Way To Work program, a client-centered program that provides a structured environment to help participants achieve and maintain employment, housing, financial, and family stability. The process involves clients enrolling and participating in a class to help them get the skills they need for the job they want. Personnel at HOPE help clients develop a resume and then assist them in their job search. Tidwell emphasizes HOPE’s commitment to assisting clients in acquiring essential skills. “Over the years, we’ve successfully supported many in obtaining CDLs and medical licenses. By directing them towards online learning platforms offering OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 certifications, they can enhance their qualifications and position themselves as highly attractive candidates to potential employers.”

Nearly 51 percent of Louisiana is considered Asset Limited, Income Restrained, and Employed, or ALICE. ALICE is our friend, family member, or neighbor who works hard to make ends meet, yet struggles to make enough money to support themselves in the state of Louisiana. Most people who are ALICE live under a curtain of certain circumstances beyond their control, such as lack of financial literacy, mental health issues, broken families, lack of education, illiteracy, and other challenges. Through the Client Choice Food Pantry and Way To Work program, clients can take control of their health, develop autonomy, and learn how to gain and keep a job.

In addition, the foundation works with many different companies in Baton Rouge and offers professional development training tailored around the idea of the dynamics of poverty. Another sister training program called, “Understanding Your Workforce,” helps to educate employers about employees who were hired from a poverty background.

HOPE Ministries works with a number of agencies throughout the city and has funders, volunteers, and foundations that help build clients’ success stories. The food pantry is largely driven by volunteers who are dedicated to the mission of HOPE.

In the near future, Tidwell plans to help HOPE expand into a bigger collaborative effort called Skilled BR. Through this initiative, HOPE plans to build a network of providers and employers throughout the Great Baton Rouge area to help clients find employment, medical care, and support throughout the community.

“It takes a village,” says Tidwell. “If we don’t work together, if we remain in silos, we’re not going to do our best.”

This article was originally published in June 2024.

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