WILMINGTON – Underneath a church on 5th Street in downtown Wilmington, a basement with low ceilings has been turned into a one-stop shop for some of the area’s neediest citizens.
The Hope Center, started last year by Randy Evans, is a day center that, on varying days, offers breakfast, lunch, resume assistance, haircuts and a place to simply wash up or get out of the elements.
“I don’t use the word ‘homeless.’ It’s a very loaded word,” said Evans, who renovated the church’s unused basement with some friends. “I use ‘unsheltered’ or ‘displaced,’ because under some definitions people who live in mobile homes are considered ‘homeless,’ even though they have a roof over their heads at night.”
Evans and a close-knit group of volunteers keep the center, which is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., running. They provide food on the days they’re open, as well as lockers, WiFi and a place to drop off mail. On Mondays, John Lapertosa brings his laptop and helps people put together resumes.
“We don’t look at them as homeless, we look at them as family,” said Lapertosa, who also cooks meals and coordinates donations and sponsorships. “Our goal is to help them develop a sense of self-worth, which is often missing in people that are in these situations. We want to help them get back on their feet.”
“I don’t use the word ‘homeless.’ It’s a very loaded word. I use ‘unsheltered’ or ‘displaced,’ because under some definitions people who live in mobile homes are considered ‘homeless,’ even though they have a roof over their heads at night.” — Randy Evans
Along with resume building on Mondays, The Hope Center brings in someone to give people fresh haircuts on Wednesdays. On Fridays, local company Hammocks for Hope trains people how to make hammocks that will then be sold, teaching those who visit the center job skills they can use as well as paying them a living wage.
The Hope Center has grown rapidly since it began occupying the basement of the church. According to Evans, it went from getting just a handful of people during this past spring to feeding 40 to 60 people on a regular basis. Because of this, the center, which prides itself in not taking government money, is looking for donations to continue its work.
“The Hope Center exists to build interpersonal relationships and community, and now we’re asking the community for help in continuing our mission,” said Evans.
He hopes with more support to provide more services such as shower and laundry facilities. “We’ve been doing a lot of this ourselves and through our volunteers, but we need more sponsors.”
Just providing food alone can get expensive. According to Lapertosa, he’s been able to get donations and gift cards from Walmart and Food Lion. That, however, isn’t always enough to provide the three, weekday meals provided at The Hope Center as well as the Sunday morning breakfast the center helps provide at downtown Wilmington’s riverfront through a local food truck.
“We don’t just look at this as serving food to the hungry,” Lapertosa said. “We think of it as sharing a meal with someone and talking to them, listening to them and getting their story so we can try to help them. Sometimes it’s as simple as them needing someone to talk to over a hot meal.”
Lapertosa said The Hope Center has already had some success stories in the year it’s been open, including a couple helped earlier this year who recently signed a lease for a home and came back to drop off food donations to the center as a thank you.
“Through love and through access, we offer choices,” Evans said. “It’s up to them to make the choices, but we will be here to help them succeed in any way we can and provide them access to opportunities that could help bring stability to their lives.”
For more information about The Hope Center and how to donate, visit its website.