HomeFront Will Celebrate Week of Hope with Many Service, Education Opportunities
By Donald Gilpin
As HomeFront prepares to celebrate its sixth annual Week of Hope February 13-19, HomeFront CEO Sarah Steward reflected on the growing organization’s work in helping local families break the cycle of poverty. “Hope” is a constant theme.
“I see reasons for hope,” she said. “I see challenges, but I do see reasons for hope, and part of that is based on the HomeFront philosophy, which is working family by family. Even when there are big social challenges, I can walk into our waiting room or into our Family Campus any day and meet dozens of families whose lives are being changed, whose lives are being improved. And that gives me hope that we can tackle this in a big way.”
She went on to emphasize the importance of support from the Central New Jersey community. “We know that our community cares deeply for families that have found themselves in difficult times,” she said. “We find so much hope in the volunteers and supporters that give so generously of their time and energy to support our neighbors during this week and throughout the year.”
This year’s Week of Hope will include in-person opportunities to work with HomeFront’s staff in delivering meals to families living at local area motels, sorting clothes and stocking shelves at HomeFront’s Free Store in Trenton, and working at HomeFront’s Diaper Resource Center.
There will also be opportunities to learn more about HomeFront’s work, the issues surrounding poverty and homelessness, and the organization’s future plans. There will be a lunch and learn discussion with Steward on Friday, February 17, and on February 14, participants will be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Paint and Sip event at the HomeFront Treasure Trove on West Broad Street in Hopewell.
Founded in 1991, the Lawrence-based HomeFront organization last year relied on more than 3,600 volunteers to support their more than 35 programs and services. The ways for community members to help are numerous and diverse, including support for tutoring, the donation center, employment, adult education programs, food pantries, the Diaper Resource Center, the Free Store, and the ArtSpace program.
“Joining in our Week of Hope provides a way for community members to welcome the new year through service,” said HomeFront Director of Development and Community Engagement Meghan Cubano. “We encourage neighbors to join us, learn something new, and feel the positivity that comes from helping a local family.”
Steward noted how the Week of Hope offers participants a wide range of options. “We know people have different amounts of time and different amounts of energy and different interests,” she said. “There are opportunities for things as simple as dropping off some baked goods or helping wrap diapers for the resource center. There are also educational opportunities.”
She continued, “We’re going to have conversations about HomeFront programs and what the challenges are. We have a wonderful art exhibit that our clients put together that was displayed during the summer and the fall at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and we’ve relocated it back on our Family Campus.”
Steward discussed HomeFront’s challenges in coming out of the pandemic, the effects of which are still present for many of the families that HomeFront serves. “The shortage of affordable housing, the higher rates of hunger, and housing challenges are very real, not just because of the pandemic but because of larger structural factors,” she said.
She emphasized the potential impact of HomeFront’s expanding work in education and job training, with new staff and new programs in place. “The nature of finding your way into a well-paying career has changed,” she said. “Jobs are much more available now, and we’re delighted about that, but how can we help our families find a career, a path that’s going to pay a living wage and support a family? We’ve had to grow and change some of our programs to adapt to that.”
Steward pointed out that the overarching mission of HomeFront remains the same, but the organization has changed to meet changing needs of the present time. “We are serving many more families with food and diapers and basic necessities than we did before the pandemic, so we’ve had to grow and change our operation to meet that demand. We have more mobile food pantries in different neighborhoods in Trenton or Hamilton or wherever to reach families that maybe can’t reach us.”
Steward returned to the theme of hope. “I’m not naive,” she said. “I see the challenges, but one of the reasons that leads me to hope is that I believe our community cares deeply about our neighbors, and this event is one way that our community expresses its caring. They turn towards organizations like HomeFront because they have this caring and they’re not sure what to do with it, and they need a partner that will help them put energy into service for families that need it. It’s also people who show up to events like this that gives me hope that our community really does care.”
She continued, “People who respond and support us and come out to learn and volunteer give us hope and engage all of us at HomeFront. Not everyone can write a big check, but they can volunteer. They can come and learn about the issues — all very important work in addressing the bigger challenges.”
For more information about the Week of Hope and volunteer opportunities, visit homefrontnj.org.