In the winter of 1986-87, Friendship House first opened its doors as a thrift store to serve the growing community of individuals experiencing homelessness. In the beginning, Meeting Ground, a Maryland-based homeless ministry, with the support of the New Castle Presbytery operated the thrift store. Friendship House started to gain recognition among the community and the needs of those it served began growing. In response, Friendship House changed to remain open for twenty-four hours a day. The evenings were cold; many came to Friendship House at night, seeking shelter from the elements. During the day, it became a place for assistance and advocacy. While some persons continued to come to shop at the store, an increasing number of individuals and families came seeking help to escape their homeless condition.
On April 1, 1987, the city fire marshal ordered Friendship House to close until it was a fully licensed as a shelter. At about the same time, church volunteers from Immanuel Church Highlands, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and First & Central Presbyterian Church convinced their church communities to co-sponsor this homeless ministry. In partnership with Meeting Ground, these churches, and several committed individuals, formally incorporated as Friendship House, Inc. (a Delaware nonprofit corporation with 501(c) (3) status). Although the thrift store never reopened, Friendship House began building a network of programs and services the following fall. In September 1987, Friendship House began serving the Sunday Morning Breakfast, which is still around today. In October 1987, it opened a daytime, drop-in center at Fourth and Market Streets.
Since then, Friendship House has evolved into a multi-site, holistic homeless program. Its work force includes thirty-five employees and more than one thousand volunteers. Its coalition of community partners includes more than one hundred faith communities, thirty schools, fifty community organizations, and fifty local businesses. Friendship House currently operates twelve halfway houses, serving one hundred displaced individuals and families on any given night. Its four daytime centers in Wilmington (two locations), Newark, and Middletown daily serve over two hundred seventy-five displaced clients. Working with a coalition of twenty New Castle county congregations, its Winter Sanctuary program operates two weekend daytime drop-ins and two “Code Purple” night sanctuaries in Wilmington and Newark. Its clothing ministry, Friendship House Clothing Bank, distributes more than 15,000 pounds of quality used clothing monthly through its network of more than two hundred fifty distribution centers and offers employment training to over thirty women each year.
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