Seeking help to make a thriving community

Guest Column

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Walking down the median strip near an intersection or at the exit of the Walmart parking lot. They are individuals, and sometimes, heartbreakingly, with a child, and a cardboard sign asking for help. You don’t have time to learn their stories or understand what they’ve been through. You might feel uncomfortable to meet their eye. You have five seconds to decide if you will give them cash out of your pocket so that they can — well, we don’t know.

The rising costs of gas and groceries are forcing more families who traditionally didn’t seek help, to turn to desperate measures to survive. Between December 2019 and April 2022, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment jumped from $988 to $1,232, which means that if a person earns $13 an hour at a full-time job today, nearly 65 percent of a take-home paycheck goes to paying just rent. Right now, you can’t drive more than a quarter mile down Jefferson Avenue without seeing a “We’re Hiring” sign, but that doesn’t mean jobs are providing enough money for people to cover their basic expenses.

THRIVE Peninsula is a Newport News nonprofit that collects the stories of families facing hardship and provides emergency financial assistance and food to help them through it. The nonprofit’s target population is working families and the vast majority of those who access financial assistance to pay a housing bill or afford a car repair have at least one job. These neighbors come to THRIVE because they can’t afford to pay their electric bill or feed their children and they need stopgap help before things get worse. But since the pandemic, a new group of people is accessing services. 

Over the last two years, 36 percent of families who visited THRIVE’s food pantry were newcomers, and 81 percent of recipients return to the food pantry a total of three times or less. THRIVE’s food pantry boasts of produce, milk, eggs and frozen meats on top of the traditional canned goods so that neighbors can prepare nutritious meals. THRIVE volunteers pack each grocery cart specifically based on the individual family’s dietary needs and preferences, giving them items they want and will eat to restore dignity and reduce waste. Neighbors who visit the pantry can fill out their custom grocery request through THRIVE’S website, and there are no qualifications to receive food.

In addition, the nonprofit offers financial assistance, which gives funds directly to a person’s landlord or utility company to stabilize housing. Each family meets with a trained financial coach to build a household budget and give it financial tools and resource referrals. Then it can continue to work with the coach to earn incentives when it reaches financial milestones. 

This volunteer coalition is helping people five days a week and runs on the generosity of this community. Right now, requests for help are spiking and THRIVE needs more funds and volunteers to continue to meet the need. Learn more and get involved at www.thrivepeninsula.org. 

About Sister David Ann Niski 11 Articles
Sister David Ann Niski is executive director of the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters Foundation. A strong advocate and supporter of the Virginia Peninsula not-for-profit agencies, she can be reached at 757-886-6025 or by e-mail at david_niski@bshsi.org.

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