ALBION – On Saturday, with temperatures in the teens and wind blowing in their face, volunteers were ready to give out food, clothes, kind words and prayers.
The Hands 4 Hope ministry has been doing it for three years. Jack Burris and a team of volunteers have been consistent going to four different locations each month.
They give out about 20 “shares” or bags of food each week, and have tables set up with free clothes. Burris has repurposed a red delivery truck into the base for the ministry. People can go inside the truck and are welcome to share a prayer request.
The truck has been dubbed “Clifford” and has become a frequent sight in the community, even appearing in Medina’s Parade of Lights.
Burris, owner of a carpet cleaning business, modelled Hands 4 Hope after the Care-A-Van Ministries in Batavia.
“We’ve become a family,” Burris said about the Hands 4 Hope volunteers and the people they serve. “It’s not an us-and-them thing, it’s a we thing. We’ve definitely built a community.”
On Saturday, in the bitter cold, about 10 volunteers were outside the Hoag Library at Hands 4 Hope. They distributed 22 bags of food, which also included toilet paper, dish soap and other supplies.
An anonymous benefactor funded the effort until very recently. Now community donations keep it going. Burris said people continue to step forward to support the ministry, whether with donations or by helping as volunteers.
“I definitely enjoy the heck out of it,” he said. “I feel blessed.”
Hands 4 Hope is in Medina the first Saturday each month at Orient and Starr streets. That site has been busier since the MAAC Clothing Depot opened across the street.
The second Saturday, Hands 4 Hope is at Holley in the Public Square, usually parking in front of the former bank.
The third and fourth Saturdays are in Albion, at the Hoag Library parking lot the third Saturday and over on Lydun Drive the fourth Saturday. When there’s a fifth Saturday, Hands 4 Hope usually takes the day off.
The ministry averaged 88 shares a month of food in 2018, which was up from about 80 in 2017.
Burris said Hands 4 Hope has been buying in bulk to stretch out its dollars. It has been operating on the Christ Church in Albion’s liability insurance. Christ Church runs the Community Kitchen on Fridays at Albion.
About six months after Hands 4 Hope started, The Orleans County Democratic Committee donated coats and clothes. Now, many people have donated winter jackets, pants, shirts and other clothing.
“The clothes are huge,” Burris said.
People have donated tables and clothing bins as well, and Aggie Recco leads the effort to organize the clothes.
Some of Burris’s customers in his cleaning business know about Hands 4 Hope and they have donated clothes and luggage. The suitcases are a hot commodity because Burris said there are many people who don’t have their own place to live. They have most of their belongings in suitcases, and they stay temporarily on other peoples’ couches.
Burris said a core of volunteers have been with the ministry since soon after the first Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Darrell Burgio, Thom Jennings, Kevin Lemcke, Brian Stewart, Ron LaGamba and others all help the ministry happen, helping to pack food, set up tables and be an encouraging presence to people who stop by the red truck.
Jennings said he can relate to people who are struggling to pay their bills. He was a single father with young children about two decades ago. He said Hands 4 Hope doesn’t look down on anyone who stops by the truck. There isn’t any paperwork to fill with income criteria.
“In the beginning, people were super suspicious and then they realize there is no catch,” Jennings said. “A lot of people come up to the truck and they appreciate all the blessings in their life.”
People have asked for prayers, sometimes for a different job or a health concern. They often come back, weeks or month later, with good news to share.
“I respect and appreciate the power of prayer,” Jennings said. “It lets you know you are not alone.”
The prayers are all kept confidential. And the ministry remains an act of faith, without a firm plan for keeping it sustainable long-term.
“Everything is put in the hands of God,” Jennings said.
To make a donation, send to Hands 4 Hope, P.O. Box 495, Albion NY 14411.