BELLINGHAM – After 18 years, Hope House has moved into a new home.
The outreach ministry, a partnership of Church of the Assumption Parish and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, provides food, clothing, household goods, hygiene items and referrals to community services. Each year, Hope House serves 5,600 people, who make a total of 20,000 visits for assistance, according to Cheri Woolsey, program manager for Hope House.
Hope House was in a 100-year-old building on the parish campus and “there wasn’t enough space to handle the number of people they serve,” said Karen Zuther, Assumption’s parish administrator.
The new 3,000-square-foot building, built on the same site on the Assumption property, was blessed October 14 by Father Scott Connolly, Assumption’s pastor. It reopened to the public October 22.
“Even though we’re blessing a building, an inanimate object, we’re really blessing the people who gather inside,” Father Connolly said in a phone interview.
“Whether it’s volunteers or the people seeking help, all people are welcomed as Christ” at Hope House, Father Connolly added. “In doing so, we’re fulfilling the plan of Jesus in meeting the needs of the poor and forgotten.”
Father Scott Connolly, pastor of Church of the Assumption Parish in Bellingham, blesses Hope House’s new building on October 14. Hope House, a partnership between the parish and Catholic Community Services, assists low-income residents in Whatcom County. Photo: Cheri Woolsey
After the blessing, parishioners and guests enjoyed fellowship over coffee and doughnuts as they toured the new space. The parish has been very supportive, not only of the construction project, but also in contributing to the ministry over the years, said Cheri Woolsey, program manager for Hope House, which has an operating budget of about $80,000.
“The parishioners are amazing,” Woolsey said, noting they donate household items and clothing, while the parish school sponsors sock, coat and food drives. “Over the years, I think they’ve realized this is our faith in action.”
‘Treating everyone with dignity’
Woolsey has been leading Hope House since it began in 2000 as a way to help low-income residents of Whatcom County. Although the services at Hope House haven’t changed over the years, the number of people needing assistance has grown, including a huge increase after the 2008 recession, Woolsey said.
“We serve a lot of families, a majority of whom are single parents,” she said. “I have a heart for the working poor. They have minimum-wage jobs, but you can’t raise a family on that.”
So they come to Hope House, where they can help fill some of the gaps in their families’ needs. Everything at Hope House is free.
And now when people come through the doors of Hope House, they can be served more efficiently and comfortably in the new space.
“Our goal was not expansion, but to create a safer, hospitable environment for the people we serve,” explained Will Rice, agency director for Catholic Community Services Northwest. “One of the things we focused on was making sure we were treating everyone with dignity.”
The new building cost around $700,000, Rice said, adding it was fortunate that Ram Construction offered to build the structure at cost. Rice said the money came from foundational grants, CCS discretionary funds, regular Hope House contributors and a capital campaign at Assumption that raised $200,000.
“Outreach to the poor and marginalized is our mission,” Zuther said of Assumption Parish. “People here are very much into that. This community is incredibly supportive.”
Open spaces, working bathrooms
The new building features an open floor plan with plenty of room for moms to maneuver strollers and the elderly to use their walkers. In the old building, it was nearly impossible for people using wheelchairs to get inside, Woolsey said. Now a ramp comes right up to the front door.
Volunteers will also benefit from the new space, which has more room for sorting and storing donations, Woolsey said.
“Many of our volunteers are retired and had to work either in a shed out back in the winter with no heat or upstairs in a tiny little room,” she said. “Now, everyone can work together in a nice, bright, airy room.”
Restrooms are one of the most exciting amenities in the new building, said volunteer and Assumption parishioner Emily Diaz Flynn. In the old house, the bathroom was only available in an emergency.
“We have pregnant moms, kids [and] homeless folks coming in,” Flynn said. “That’s going to be such a help to have a working bathroom.”
Hope House provides free clothing, food, household goods and other items to more than 5,000 Whatcom County residents in need each year. Photo: Cheri Woolsey
When the old house was torn down in February to accommodate construction of the new building on the same site, Hope House moved into a storage shed that was dubbed “Hope Shack.”
“It’s been a little crazy,” Flynn said. “Since we didn’t have room for clothing, I’ve had to tell a lot of people, ‘Come back in October.’”
Now that the new building is open, Hope House is seeing a lot of new clients, along with the “regulars” who were familiar with the original building.
“They just can’t believe it,” Flynn said. “They’ve been so impressed with and excited about the new space.”
For many people, Flynn said, Hope House is more than a service agency. It’s a community.
“We always have coffee, tea and cookies,” she said. “Some people come in, rest for a while and then leave. They aren’t there for any service, but for the fellowship.”
And, Flynn said, “it’s important to know that it’s not just Catholics we’re serving. We’re serving the entire community of Bellingham.”