The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Helping Hand is back to raise money for District charities

Sheila White at Miriam's Kitchen, a Washington nonprofit that helps people experiencing homelessness. Miriam's is one of the partners in The Washington Post Helping Hand initiative. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

Sheila White and I have something in common. We’ve both written about people experiencing homelessness. I do it in The Washington Post. She’s done it for Street Sense, a newspaper you may have seen people selling on street corners downtown.

White brought to her stories a perspective I don’t have — and hope never to have. She herself was once without a home. I asked her what kind of stories she wrote.

“I did a story about myself,” White said. “They always wanted me to write about me. I said, ‘I’m done with me.’ The stories I liked to write were other people’s stories. I wanted to hear how they endured being homeless.”

Today is the first day of this year’s Washington Post Helping Hand campaign. That’s our annual fundraising drive for three local nonprofit groups working to end homelessness and hunger in our area. Over the next eight weeks, I’ll share stories about Bread for the City, Friendship Place and Miriam’s Kitchen, one of the charities that helped White. I hope the people you meet in my columns will inspire you to give. (You can do that by visiting posthelpinghand.com.)

In the coming days, I’ll share more about Sheila White. But there’s something she told me that I want to share now.

“A homeless person isn't a bum,” she said. “People looked at me like I was a bum.”

White said she wanted her stories “to get people to be aware a homeless person is a human being like anybody. They had a life like you before they were homeless.”

I hope my stories will do the same. But first, let’s meet these three charities.

Over the last fiscal year, Bread for the City distributed nearly 306,000 bags of groceries to people in need from its two locations: on Seventh Street NW and on Good Hope Road SE. That’s a lot of bread — and vegetables, milk, meat and more — for the city.

But that’s not all Bread for the City did last year. More than 2,700 patients visited its medical, dental and vision clinics, or took advantage of behavioral health counseling. The nonprofit’s medical staff administered 1,146 coronavirus tests and 350 coronavirus vaccinations.

Nearly 400 people visited its clothing room to stock up on clothes, household items and toiletries. And 582,600 diapers were distributed through Bread for the City’s diaper bank.

Bread for the City also oversees social programs, such as job readiness and life skills classes, and operates a legal clinic that provides assistance in such areas as housing and family law.

To donate a check by mail, make it payable to “Bread for the City” and send it to Bread for the City, Attn: Development, 1525 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Last year, Friendship Place provided assistance to 3,673 people experiencing homelessness or at risk of falling into it. Many of them started their transition off the streets by visiting the charity’s Welcome Center on Wisconsin Avenue NW. It’s a place to do laundry, get mail, access medical services and meet with case managers — the social workers who can help craft a plan for the future. Friendship Place’s Street Outreach team reached others where they live: on the streets.

Friendship Place provides a home for families at a 50-unit building in Ward 3 called the Brooks. Valley Place is a new short-term apartment building for 52 residents in Southeast. La Casa is permanent supportive housing in Northwest for 43 men.

Friendship Place oversees several programs aimed at veterans. And last year, the charity’s AimHire jobs program helped more than 50 people find employment.

To donate by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 3655 Calvert St. NW, Washington, DC 20007.

Miriam’s Kitchen describes its mission as “more than a meal.” But that meal — two meals, actually; breakfast and dinner, prepared every weekday in its Foggy Bottom headquarters — is pretty darn good. Miriam’s Kitchen serves close to 70,000 tasty, nutritious meals a year.

The dining room serves as a literal and figurative entry way to the charity. It’s a starting point for many people experiencing homelessness, a way to connect with Miriam’s Kitchen and learn about its services. These range from getting warm clothing and stocking up on toiletries to accessing free health care and mental health services.

At Miriam’s Kitchen, clients meet with housing experts who help prepare the forms needed to qualify for benefits. Those benefits can include permanent supportive housing. Last year, Miriam’s Kitchen helped 149 people move off the streets and into their own homes.

Some of them return occasionally to Miriam’s Kitchen for a meal. The food is that tasty and the dining room is that welcoming. That’s because of something the staff and volunteers at Miriam’s Kitchen never forget: A homeless person is a human being like anybody.

To donate by check, write Miriam’s Kitchen, Attn: Development, 2401 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037.

Our Helping Hand campaign runs through Jan. 6. Please consider making a donation.

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