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Hand-of-Hope working to help feed area's homeless

Amanda J. Vicars • Feb 9, 2016 at 4:30 PM

With the onset of snowy weather and below freezing temperatures characteristic of the winter season in East Tennessee, Johnson City-based disaster relief charity Hand-of-Hope looks to ease the hunger pangs of Tri-Cities’ homeless individuals and families by providing them with do-it-yourself hot meals they can easily prepare anytime, anywhere.

Hand-of-Hope, which is a non-profit project of United Charitable, a 501(c)(3) public charity, was initially organized to “provide a helping hand to those in need during disaster” on a global scale.

In January 2016, the notion of Hand-of-Hope’s Homeless Meals Project was actualized with the arrival of project director Jennifer Barnett onto the scene. Enlisted by the organization for her “extensive nonprofit experience,” Barnett’s main objective is to attain enough grant funding and corporate and private donations - while building rapport in the community and gaining support from local agencies and public entities - to feed the maximum number of disadvantaged and destitute people possible.

“Hand-of-Hope has been in existence now for about three years,” Barnett said. When it started they were more global. But, I pointed out, “you’ve got a need right here in this area with the homeless and the disasters we have locally.”

“Of course I would like to see this spread across the United States and eventually globally,” she continued. “But, you have to start somewhere.”

Barnett said Hand-of-Hope has partnered with Chef 5 Minute Meals out of Piney Flats on the Homeless Meals Project to mass supply their nutritious self-heating meals at a discounted price - 1,200 so far at $1.50 apiece instead of the regular $7. Distribution to the region’s homeless will transpire through area shelters, agencies, soup kitchens, public officials and (hopefully) churches. The initiative has already been adopted by day shelters like Downtown Day Center and Haven of Mercy in Johnson City, one of the two “white flag” shelters in the region. Barnett explained that when temperatures are dangerously low, the Haven and Salvation Army put out a white flag for any unsheltered or homeless person to enter, no questions asked.

The “uniquely self-heating” meals manufactured by Chef 5 Minute Meals and sold at a discount to Hand-of-Hope are one particular kind out of the assortment they make. A three cheese omelet and corned beef hash is the present meal of choice, but Barnett said she hopes to negotiate for more types in the future. “It’s a great product that they’re putting out,” Barnet assured. No refrigeration or external heating source is required for consumption and the company has pre-packaged the meal kits to include a granola bar, a pound cake and a drink mix.

Barnett said the homeless meals campaign will be ongoing, but the current emphasis extends now through March due to the urgency caused by the cold weather. There are 5,000 additional meals available for distribution if enough funds are raised; a $10 donation can feed roughly six people.

“My level of passion for this is tremendous,” Barnett said sincerely. “I think it’s important that this initiative grows. But, we can’t do it alone.”

For more information on Hand-of-Hope or the Homeless Meals Project, or to donate or volunteer, visit www.hand-of-hope.org or contact Jennifer Barnett at 423-631-0636.

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