Our Friendship House values are to strive to treat everyone we meet with mutual love, respect, compassion, grace and acceptance. We recently stated we support Black lives matter and it is evident as much as we aspire to follow our values there is more we need to learn and do as an organization. One of our goals is to be better educated about the systemic racism in our country. While meeting recently, the Board of Trustees agreed to form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. This committee will consist of members of the board, staff and community. They will start the evaluation process of our hiring practices, policies and client services to identify and correct any hidden bias. Members of the board are reaching out to Black community leaders inviting them to share their experiences and insights. We will work to learn and grow in our understanding through these conversations, other resources and diversity training. To be a loving and supportive community, we must acknowledge and fight racism.
I had thought I might do my Highmark Walk as part of my usual morning routine run-walk. It would be easy to do, but not very meaningful. I did go out for a few miles that beautiful Saturday. But I thought it would be more meaningful to walk with the homeless instead of for the homeless. I knew at lunch and dinner I would be preparing and serving meals for those Friendship House housed at the Red Roof Inn in Newark. I thought it would be a neat photo-op of walking around the mammoth parking lot with some of my homeless friends who I know very well. God had other plans.
Issac (name was changed for this story) made his way to pick up lunch along with 39 others. He did not look good that day. He often does not. Isaac has a substance abuse disorder with alcohol, and as a result has severe liver and heart issues. He has medication but chooses not to take it as he believes his end is near. I’ve spent a lot of time with him trying to bring him hope.
Isaac did not smell of alcohol and his speech was not slurred, but he still struggled to walk across the parking lot. Another person grabbed him and held him up. I ran over and grabbed his other arm. Isaac says, “will you walk with me?” Isn’t that what the Highmark Walk is all about? We slowly made our way into the building and down the long hallway. I told Isaac and our other friend about the Highmark Walk and they thanked me. I think this says volumes about Friendship House, “Will you walk with me?”
We got Isaac to his room to lie down and discussed calling 911. But he did not want to go to the hospital. My other friends at the Red Roof Inn reported he was somewhat better at dinner but still weak. Our friend took dinner to Isaac’s room. Pray for Isaac that he will accept the help from those who reach out to him. And pray he will again find hope in life.
Thank you Friendship House for all you have done to care for the most vulnerable. Your efforts, especially during the pandemic, saved lives. You have given hope.
What would you do if you woke up one morning and suddenly your bathroom was locked with a sign that said “do not enter”? And when you went to your kitchen it was also closed; everywhere you turn there are ropes closing it off, not allowing you to access food.
When Delaware and states across the nation declared a state of emergency and required places of business to shut down, this is what happened to people experiencing street level homelessness.
With little to no warning, their life lines were closed to them.
One of the things I appreciate about Friendship House is our ability to move swiftly and respond to urgent matters. This was our time to step in. Within those first few days one of our immediate calls to action was to find public bathroom access for people who were experiencing homelessness. How were they expected to not only take care of personal needs but perform the most basic request of all of us: hand washing? Within a few days, with the direct assistance of New Castle County, there were port-a-potties with hand washing stations scattered across Wilmington, Newark, and even Millcreek where there used to be access to inside bathrooms.
Knowing we had to pull back our own accessibility to people, we requested financial assistance through the Delaware Community Foundation’s strategic response to COVID-19 fund and the United Way’s Delaware Does More fund. We were awarded money from both funds to help people experiencing homelessness in Wilmington and Newark safely quarantine through hotel assistance. With their help, we were able to house over 100 people who otherwise would have remained forgotten and invisible as their world closed around them. Understanding the funding stream for these hotel vouchers was limited, our next battle was to convince the state they had to take over payment of these rooms. On our final day of funding, that happened.
In Newark, food pantries and free food services became null. We did the only thing we knew how – we stepped in. With the help of our worshiping community, and many restaurants and businesses, we have been able to feed 45 people lunch and dinner in Newark daily. For most of them we drove the food to the hotel to serve. Through our masks and gloved hands, we continued to find connections with each person.
In Wilmington, when food options became scarce, we provided a cold meal to go with the usual morning coffee. We gave out over 600 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 1,300 hard boiled eggs weekly – fully donated by our community.
You won’t find these accomplishments from Friendship House in the news. Friendship House has a small but mighty coalition of people who care deeply and are determined to serve. We do it because we can. We do it because we want to. We do it because we are needed. We do it because every person deserves a place they can call home.
More than half of our staff remains working on site, or “on the front lines”, to ensure our guests at every location are noticed, cared for, and receive essential services. Those who could work from home continue to give and work in any way they can. Friendship House may have closed some of its physical locations – but we never closed. And as we reopen what was closed, we do so with our guests and staff safety in mind.
During this time of uncertainty and fear, you continued to be there for us. Your gifts and donations brought joy and relief to us each and every time. We are so grateful and humbled by the love and support you have bestowed upon us.
Friendship House was founded on the values and principles of Jesus of Nazareth, which include walking alongside those who are the most marginalized, without judgement. This includes anyone who is feeling isolated, scared, or lost. We continue these principles today. No matter the reason they may be experiencing homelessness, we are here for them.
Thinking back to March 12, when the state of emergency started, what was it like for you when your normal day got turned upside down?
Although we all have been in the same storm, the boats we are in are not the same. The Friendship House boat stays strong with your support as we search for other boats about to sink. We reach out to offer an oar or a new sail in order for that boat to stay afloat. The storm is not over – and there are many boats about to be plummeted by a wave. We know we can weather this storm. And with your help, we know we can help others weather the storm, too. Please, continue your prayers for our staff, guests, residents, and those who have yet found their way home. If you are able, please consider a financial donation supporting our mission.
I want to acknowledge with deep appreciation the food and monetary donations Friendship House has received from you our loving, supportive community. Your generosity not only provides much needed supplies and prayers but lifts the spirits of the staff. I also want to give a huge shout out to Kim and the amazing staff at Friendship House working daily on the front lines. I am in awe of their dedication, commitment and compassion for others.
The months ahead are still an unknown for all of us. I’m confident with our committed staff and your continued support Friendship House will find a new “normal” using creative ways to continue to be a way home and meet the changing needs of our community.
President of the Board
An Update from our Executive Director:
Every day since early March, we have asked ourselves: how do we respond to the needs of our community without putting our staff or guests at risk of COVID-19? As an immediate response to the pandemic, we limited access to every building and stopped some of our less essential programming. We quickly got creative on how to provide needed services. As the state of emergency continued, we continued with physical distancing, wearing masks onsite at all times, and washing our hands obsessively.
During this pandemic, Friendship House has been very fortunate to keep essential personnel with full pay. We have been very fortunate that you, our loving, supportive community, has lifted us in your giving and prayers. With support from the Delaware Community Foundation and the United Way of Delaware, we have housed over 80 people living on the street by placing them in hotels to safely quarantine. We have continued to be a beacon of light in our community, even through our gloved hands and masked faces.
As our state lifts bans and begins Phase 1 of its reopening plan, what does this mean for Friendship House?
We all miss their “normal” jobs, and yet we realize we have to look ahead and be safe for ourselves and for those we serve.
Here is a summary of our next steps.
In our Transitional Housing program we are creating new interview protocols, requirements, and expectations for incoming residents. We are writing a plan of action for those entering the program, as many of the partners we turn to for resources continue to discern how and when they reopen and start offering vital resources again. We continue to keep high levels of cleaning protocols, especially as residents graduate into different stages and move to different houses. At this time, we are not allowing volunteers on site. However, we are still happily accepting your dinner donations for the residents!
Our Empowerment Centers will continue to meet emergency needs including food, clothing, and personal hygiene. Until we can ensure proper hand washing stations, a controlled environment with physical distancing and mask use of our guests, we will continue to serve from outside our walls. We are actively working on mitigating these concerns in order to provide additional resources our guests need. We believe we will have a temporary Wilmington Center available soon and we will begin offering emergency services in Middletown. At this time we are still asking for no volunteers.
We know so many of you are diligently holding onto your no longer needed or wanted clothing for our Clothing Bank! Please, hang in there a little longer. We are planning a weekly donation day at our Clothing Bank starting in June. We are working out details to ensure you and our staff are safe during this process! In the meantime, we continue to get clothing out for emergency cases. Some of our most important needs are new socks and underwear for all ages.
The Weekly Sunday Breakfast will continue to be done as it is now – coffee and breakfast to go.
We miss sitting down with our friends and sharing stories with each other. We miss the ease in which familiar faces would walk into any one of our locations without hesitation to drop off a gift or to pick one up. In a world with proper testing and vaccinations, it is our hope and prayer we can get back to that level of open hospitality. It is, after all, what we do so well. In the meantime, we will make deeply thoughtful and prayerful decisions. The Board of Directors and I will continue to make decisions that include every employee’s voice, the rules enforced by the State, and the needs of our community.
Please, continue your prayers for us and our community. Things remain very difficult for those who are experiencing or facing homelessness. People continue to face incredible pain and sadness as COVID-19 takes lives. And, please, follow the State and CDC guidelines – if not for you, then for someone you love.
As a human race we have an incredible opportunity to do good all the time. COVID-19 doesn’t stop that. Instead, it just increases our chances. So, do good today. And in that, help us to find a way home.
How can you help?
Donate A donation to Friendship House will make a difference now more than ever. With our community facing new challenges because of Covid-19, financial aid is needed to help New Castle County find a new “normal”.
Join the Walk On June 12th and 13th, 22 Friendship House teams will be walking in the Virtual Highmark Walk. 100% of the proceeds from a Friendship House team go directly to us. Please consider registering!
The CARES law now gives $300 annual deduction for charitable giving (no itemization needed). Previously, individuals were only able to deduct contributions if they itemized deductions on their personal returns. As a result of the 2017 tax law changes, the number of individuals who did so dramatically declined. CARES will allow for this deduction regardless of whether they will be itemizing their deductions, but only for the 2020 tax year. For those that do still itemize, CARES provides an increase in the Adjusted Gross Income cap from 60% to 100%. On the corporate side, the cap is raised from the historical 10% to 25%.