Offer Big Help to City’s Homeless
An enormous project undertaken by Food and Shelter Inc. and the community will offer new hope for some of Norman’s homeless.
A new campus being constructed by Food and Shelter of Norman will feature 32 tiny homes, helping to meet the housing needs of several homeless families, while expanding the nonprofit’s already existing services, including a food kitchen, day services and case management.
Food and Shelter is striving to make this a close-knit community, while serving as many citizens as possible. They want to provide a hand-up, not a hand-out. Their main goal: to help people get, and stay, on their feet, while increasing their sense of belonging to the community.
I recently spoke with April Heiple, executive director of Food and Shelter Inc. about their organization and this exciting project.
Can you provide details on the new community?
We began the planning for our new campus about 3 1/2 years ago. We were fortunate to create a partnership with the McKown family of Ideal Homes, who helped us plan, develop and raise the funds for the project. We set a goal to raise $3.5 million, which does not even include the wild amount of donated labor we received. We were astonished at how quickly people joined us, and with the help of the City of Norman, Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, Sarkeys Foundation, E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation, and hundreds of local friends, we were able to make our dream come to reality. We hope to be moving this summer.
When were you founded, and what are some details of your organization?
Food and Shelter was founded in 1983 as a once-per-week food distribution site in McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church’s basement. Quickly, it became clear people needed food more than once per week, so a group formed to find a permanent and consistent location. Food and Shelter then moved into its current site, and has grown substantially in need and service since.
We provide breakfast and lunch each day of the week and dinner many days of the week. We offer a day shelter and shower room to people living on the streets as well as a laundry room, recreational center and support services.
Our shelter program is multifaceted. We provide emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing, as well as assistance for individuals and families able to live in their own homes, but struggle to make ends meet.
Our case management services are what make us incredibly special. We believe relationships are key to overall success with our guests and residents. We look for any and all ways we can build hope among a seemingly hopeless situation and inspire great life change. It’s pretty awesome.
What unique needs does your organization face?
We are space-limited, for sure; however, we are working on this. We have more people in need of housing than even our new site will allow. We need more affordable housing to help people on limited incomes stay housed, and also we need more people power to help fulfill our mission.
Can you provide volunteer numbers and an estimate of those served in your region annually?
We average about 1,500 volunteers per year. Last year, we served over 2,900 individuals.
Can you tell us about volunteer opportunities?
Volunteers help in so many ways. We use people in our kitchen, cooking, serving and cleaning. We always need volunteers who want to help answer the phone and manage our reception area. We are developing an outreach team that will spend time in our dining room with guests, providing friendship, resources and support. We need outside cleaning crews and more. It’s unlimited, really!
Those who want to volunteer can inquire through our website: foodandshelterinc.org.
What items/goods are you most in need of?
Realistically, we always need funds to help support the people who come through our door. We need good tennis shoes, sleeping bags, backpacks, socks, full-size personal care items, toilet paper and sunscreen.
Can you tell us more about your new community?
Along with a new Food and Shelter office and soup kitchen, we have built 32 tiny houses, which are available to homeless women, children and men who need long-term supportive care. Each house is unique in design, colorful and built with home in mind. It’s truly a magical little village being made ready to provide a great amount of love and care for needy people right here in Norman.