As I had mentioned last month, Kirstin's Hope Project had their first big event. Carroll County Times wrote up a great article about the event today. Here is the link.
It was a total transformation for the Safe Haven shelter in Westminster: A red carpet had been rolled out along the hallway to the common room, where three long tables had been set with white linens, folded cloth napkins, flowers in vases and real tableware — no plastic forks or paper plates.
A hostess station at the carpet's terminus was the final touch that turned the shelter, which is home to Carroll's homeless who also have a mental health diagnosis, into a fancy restaurant one Monday night last month.
This was the first meal presented by the Help Other People Eat, or HOPE Project, a new nonprofit that is dedicated to bringing restaurant-style meals and service to people who are marginalized, according to the organization's CEO, Kirsten Beck.
"We want to make homeless people feel important," she said. "We are not just serving them food on paper plates, we are serving it in a way to bring back their dignity."
The inspiration for the HOPE Project was a YouTube video called "Prank it forward" that Beck came across two years ago. In it, a space was transformed into a restaurant, a chef was brought in and homeless people were invited to dine. It made a powerful impression on Beck, who at the time was already dipping her toes in the nonprofit world through an internship at the Carroll County Community Foundation.
"I felt like God was telling me I had to step out and create my own nonprofit," she said. "I thought, 'This is what I need to do. Transform a shelter into a restaurant and serve them in this way.' "
After raising money through her church and a indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign, and finding volunteers, Beck launched the HOPE Project and reached out with her idea to serve shelter residents. The answer was yes.
On June 15, shelter residents processed down the red carpet one by one as their name was called, the HOPE Project volunteers clapping for each as they were seated. Other volunteers, dressed in the crisp wait staff whites of a finer dining establishment, took their food orders and poured them ice water.
It was like nothing ever seen in the shelter, according to shelter Program Coordinator Joanna Waters.
"It was amazing. I think it was very uplifting for all the residents," Waters said. "I was worried about how they would receive all that attention, if they would be embarrassed at having their name called out and walking in with all the clapping and cheering, but they seemed to love it."
To Ira Blankman, a Safe Haven resident since last summer, the ceremony of the HOPE Project dinner was an indelible stamp on his memory.
"Being called out by name and down that hallway, and on to the red carpet, that's something I won't forget in a long time," he said. "You felt like you were at the Oscars or something like that, or a very expensive restaurant, that's for sure."
The food was excellent, Blankman said, as were the musicians who played for the shelter residents during and after the meal, but the real meat of the evening was something both more important and less tangible than steak and song.
"You know what it did? We live together in here and sometimes tension comes … but not that night," Blankman said. "It was a unified thing. It a real good thing to have happen."
Now that the first HOPE Project evening was a success, the HOPE Project is already planning a second event, according to Chief Operations Officer Holland Brown.
"We think it will be sometime in August and it will be a [personal service] event. We are going to have feet-washing stations, donated fresh socks, gift bags and we will have someone come in to give them hair cuts," Brown said. "We will also have a meal, but it will not be as formal, just a good meal."
Monetary donations to the HOPE Project are still welcome, Brown said, and a link to the nonprofit's indiegogo.com campaign can be found on its website at helpotherpeopleeat.org.
People can also reach out through the website if they would like to donate any products the HOPE Project could use for its next event.
"What we will need is socks for men and women, we will need razors, the men like to shave but they don't get them often, and anything full size," Brown said. "The shelter gets donations of travel-sized things, the little shampoo and body wash, but they never get a full-sized bottle."