Karen Cole had a dream. That dream was for Portland to have a community food bank for people in need, but Cole didn’t just dream. She and a group of her friends worked hard to make it happen, and recently, Hands of Hope officially opened with a ribbon cutting sponsored by the Portland Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the pantry has received its non-profit status.
She began helping others by joining with Ashley Anderson to form Portland Pay it Forward, where food was distributed to those in need at the gazebo downtown. After working with that group for a while, she decided it was time to retire, but her friends would not let her stop.
First moving into a 700 square foot space, then later to a 2,000 square foot facility, it includes the main shopping area, a kitchen, a storage space, and a garage at the back.
Over 15 local businesses and industries have generously donated to Hands of Hope along with many individuals. These organizations and citizens have donated food, shelving, volunteer hours, and money. They also receive food items from the Sumner County Food Bank and soon will be getting deliveries from Second Harvest Food Bank at a reduced price.
Cole laughed, as she said, “The people I work with need the credit. They do the work. I’m the mouth. I’m good at that.”
The pantry is open Tuesdays from 9a.m. until noon, Thursdays from 9 a.m. until noon, and 4 until 7 p.m., and again on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon. People must come in and register and show proof they are a resident of Portland or the Portland area to receive food. There is no charge for the food items the customers choose, and they can come every two weeks to get food items.
The pantry is set up like a grocery store with those coming picking what they want off the shelves. The number of items they can pick out is based on the number in their family.
Cole was surprised at the ribbon cutting when representatives from the Huckabee Show at Trinity Broadcasting Network came to announce that they had adopted Hands of Hope for the month and would make a large donation of food items and other needs. Brewers BBQ donated BBQ and catfish for the open house. Cole has been overwhelmed at those who have stepped up to ensure that no one in Portland will go hungry.
The pantry’s motto is “Spreading Hope One Hand at a Time” and is fitting for the business style the panty is developing. Volunteers help the people shop, often telling them how to cook things. Many have tears in their eyes as they get to pick what they want off the shelves.
According to Cole, it’s not just food, it’s about hope and offering friendship to those who need support.
Hands of Hope is located at 101 South Russell Street; 615 448-5742.