Helping Hands, which began in 2007 as a simple idea, to serve the needs of residents in the East Lincoln community, has developed into an organization with as many as two dozen projects underway.
The genesis of Helping Hands, affiliated with Denver United Methodist Church, was in a project to provide firewood for an elderly, disabled Denver resident living with his legally blind nephew. Their home was heated by a woodburning stove, and a supply of wood was on their lot but needed chopping and stacking.
Conceived as an endeavor that could be completed in a single day, the idea became what is now referred to as "Done in a Day" projects. In this way, volunteers have the satisfaction of seeing the results right away.
The organization is coordinated by two local residents, Julie Doss and Rebecca Jones, both 40. Under their direction, volunteers from Denver United Methodist Church as well as others in the community collect and deliver clothes, food and other necessities.
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One particular need fulfilled by Helping Hands is through a program known as "Backpacks for Kids." The program, coordinated by Doss, began with eight children and currently serves approximately 280 meals weekly for 40 children at three local schools. Each of the children, most of whom receive free or reduced-price lunches at school, are provided with seven meals and snacks to last through the weekend. The food, says Doss, is "kid friendly, microwaveable and nutritious."
Either donated or purchased with the help of donations, the meals are packed each week in a grocery sack and delivered to the school. To assure discretion, the kids are given the food in a backpack or duffel bag to take home.
"If we are aware that there are other kids in the family in need of food assistance, we provide meals for them as well," said Doss.
For longer school breaks, such as during winter and spring breaks , students in the program can pick up food for the week. For the summer break, they are given a month's supply of food at a time.
A parent of one of the children in the backpack program explained the circumstances that can profoundly affect a family: "My child would not have eaten this weekend if it wasn't for the food you sent. I work two jobs, but it is not enough. Sometimes I have to choose between making the house payment or buying food. This program is such a blessing to us."
According to Jones, "Bigger needs have come to our attention over the years. Some children in Lincoln County need clothes."
Helping Hands' response to that need is "The Clothes Closet."
"A guidance counselor, social worker or teacher contacts us, and we provide the child with two bags of clothing, personal hygiene items and a gender and age-appropriate stuffed animal," said Jones.
The clothes are given to the child at school, together with a card which reads "Packed with love! From Denver United Methodist Church." The Clothes Closet project has served 65 children over the past two-and-a-half years.
Pumpkin Center assistant principal Jennifer Marshall reflected on the impact of The Clothes Closet on a young child, "One little girl wore a new outfit to school just the other day. I wish you could have seen how proud she looked in it. It was a joy to see."
Yet other Helping Hands projects are designed to assist entire families, as well as elderly residents of local nursing homes. For "A Meal and a Visit," 95 people were provided with a special Thanksgiving Day meal as well as a visit from a Helping Hands volunteer.
"Project Christmas Cheer" delivered Christmas trees and suitable decorations and ornaments, as well as poinsettias, to local families. Presents suitable for family members were included, too.
"After all," said Doss, "there had to be presents to put under the tree." Decorating the trees was left to the families.
A unique project designed for the residents of Wexford House, a local assisted living facility, involved crafting more than 50 designed pillowcases. Each pillowcase was filled with treats such as nail polish, inexpensive jewelry, snacks and other Easter goodies and were delivered to the residents by members of the Denver United Methodist Church Youth Choir. The choir then sang for the residents and played bingo. Other Helping Hands projects and activities, some "Done in a Day" and others lasting much longer, continue to keep Doss and Jones, as well as many other volunteers busy.
"Just as long as there are folks in need, Helping Hands will be there to assist them," said Jones.
Doss concluded, "We'd like to stay and chat longer, but we've got a project we have to get started on."