HARDY — Working out of a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Hardy, the Mission of Hope has a food pantry that serves 350 families from Sharp and Fulton counties each month, but this is only part of the organization’s mission.
These families can also shop for free clothing and household items, and the Arkansas Rice Depot delivers food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and donations to the mission for distribution to six other food pantries.
Julia Baldridge is the administrator of the Mission of Hope, which also includes a 16-bed men’s homeless shelter, Hope’s Closet Resale Shop and a Red Cross satellite office.
“Most of the people in our communities don’t even know what we do here,” Baldridge said. “I would like them to stop by. Call me, and I will set up a tour for groups or individuals.”
The mission began in 2002 with Robert Hulen.
“He had a vision from God to help the people in this community that desperately needed it,” Baldridge said. “The rooms in this building are the exact size God told him to make them.”
Bob and Jan Murphy had moved their Cherokee Frame Co. to Ash Flat. Their warehouse in Hardy was empty.
“Mission of Hope wasn’t able to pay the lease, but the Murphys worked with Hulen,” Baldridge said.
“There were a couple of little offices here, but everything else had to be built — the shelter, the dining room and kitchen, the resale shop. When they put in the bathrooms for the shelter, they had to bring in a jackhammer to cut the concrete for the sewer and water lines.”
In 2003, the food pantry, shelter and resale shop opened. The food pantry distributes items from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday.
“We follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ income guidelines,” she said. “The maximum income allowed for one person is $958 a month — more for a family. They must have a photo ID and a Social Security number for each family member.”
Jack Trezza volunteers at the food pantry.
“The people line up in the dining room,” he said. “We get 70 or 80 families a week. Each family can come here once a month. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen an increase in people applying because the government has cut the funding for food stamps.”
Ten or 11 other volunteers help with the mission’s weekly food distribution.
Most of the building is still a 16-foot-high, unheated warehouse. Volunteers work in heat and cold to sort donated items and prepare food boxes for distribution.
The warehouse’s huge overhead doors open onto the loading dock.
“Every two months, the Rice Depot trucks arrive from Little Rock,” Baldridge said. “Our volunteers unload the trucks and sort the orders. Calico Rock Community Care, Gospel Truth Church in Pineville, Manna House in Melbourne, Christian Community Outreach in Horseshoe Bend, Agape at the Church of Christ in Salem and the Mammoth Spring’s First Baptist Church pick up their orders here.”
Every Thursday, food-pantry clients can shop in the “free” area in the main warehouse.
“So everyone will have a chance to shop, we limit each client to 15 minutes,” Trezza said. “Besides clothes, they can pick up diapers and personal items.”
Trezza opened a door to reveal a room overflowing with new and used toys, stuffed animals, books, games, toy cars, dolls and more.
“We call this The Christmas Room,” he said. “The last week in November to the last week in December, our pantry clients tell us how many kids they have, and we bag up toys for each child. The older kids get to pick out what they want.”
Trezza is also the manager of the mission’s homeless shelter. Eight small rooms furnished with bunk beds open onto a central hallway with a lounge and kitchen area.
“We get men passing through town looking for work,” Trezza said. “The sheriff won’t release prisoners that have no place to go, so they come here. Some are men released from the White River Medical Center.”
Trezza said the shelter accepts drug addicts and alcoholics.
“Saints aren’t going to be coming through the door here. When they come in, we drug-test them. We test them again in four weeks. They should be clean by then. They have to obey the rules and help out around the mission.”
There are 28 security cameras throughout the building.
“Some are visible, some are hidden,” Trezza said. “Since we installed them, we haven’t had any problems.”
The mission also houses an office for the Northeast Arkansas Red Cross Chapter.
“When there’s a fire, Diane Nessmith brings in the clients,” he said. “We give them household items — furniture, appliances, clothes, whatever they need.”
A smaller warehouse on the property is filled with used furniture and appliances that are also for sale. The mission is certified as a Red Cross Emergency Shelter.
The mission’s yearly budget is about $100,000. Donations come from individuals, businesses and churches.
“Every year we do a Holiday Telethon,” Trezza said. “I call people from our donation lists and from the phone book. I get some hang-ups, but we have a good response.”
This year, Pizza Hut in Ash Flat is sponsoring a food drive through the elementary school.
“The class that brings in the most food gets a pizza party,” Baldridge said. “Cherokee Village Events and Festivals also has a food drive for us during the holidays.”
Last year, Hope’s Closet Resale Shop brought in more than $80,000. With an entrance on the left side of the building, the store is brightly lit and decorated for Christmas. Jane Elam has volunteered here since 2004.
“We are open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” she said. “We check everything that comes in. If it’s dirty, we wash it. If it needs mending, we repair it. We pay attention to brand names and only put out the best merchandise. When we’re overloaded, we have a one-half-off sale.”
Some of the items are new. Ash Flat’s Walmart donates merchandise every week.
Currently, the mission has about 35 volunteers, and every December, the mission hosts a volunteer appreciation luncheon.
Asked what she would do if she had more money for the organization, Baldridge replied, “I would get somebody to teach the pantry participants how to cook the food we give them. I would also like to educate them on how to budget their money and food stamps.
“There are times I wish we could give more food. This year, I didn’t order hams and turkeys for Christmas. That’s something we have always done, but this year, financially, we couldn’t do it.”
For more information, to schedule a tour or to make a donation to the Mission of Hope, contact Baldridge at (870) 856-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The mission’s address is 3968 U.S. 62/412, Hardy, AR 72542.