By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Many organizations have been working diligently to ensure no one goes hungry during the crisis caused by COVID-19.
House of Hope Ministry, for example, is helping feed residents of local mobile and manufactured homes. When the crisis began in March, the mobile home-based nonprofit put together sack lunches for folks who needed them in Parkhurst Estates, Lake Villa and Orion Lakes mobile home communities.
“A lot of needs have come up for basic necessities like food, toiletries,” said House of Hope cofounder Brooke Simmons. “A lot of people have lost their jobs or are waiting to get some kind of government assistance.”
Simmons founded the ministry with her friend and roommate, Alyssa Waddell, in 2016 when they were both 19.
House of Hope provides mobile home communities in Orion and Oxford with resources including youth groups, community events, tutoring, food and clothing assistance. They achieve this by embedding in the communities they serve.
During the first month of the crisis, they gave out 2,500 sack lunches. By April, they were serving over 100 a day. Since mid-April, they switched from sack lunches to delivering boxes filled with both perishable and non-perishable groceries once a week to 33 families. They are currently serving over 140 people.
“I am a cancer patient, I just love these girls and what they are doing for Oxford,” Carrie Boersema told The Leader. “They bring, milk, eggs, cheese, bread, juices, snacks, fresh fruitcake mixes, laundry detergent, all kinds of stuff.”
The groceries come from a combination of food and financial donations from individuals, and funding supported by Kensington Church in Orion and Faith Church in Troy.
The ministry will continue the food assistance until the stay-at-home order is lifted. Until then, anyone who lives in a manufactured or mobile home in Oakland County and needs assistance can reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or their Facebook page.
For emergencies, or for folks who only need assistance once in a while, a “blessing box” pantry provides 24/7 anonymous access to food.
The Story of Hope
Simmons and Waddell met in middle school in Clarkston. Waddell moved to Indiana when she was in seventh grade. After graduating from high school, she returned to Michigan and became Simmons’ roommate.
At that time, Simmons had an internship with Kensington Church where she learned about the importance of community. When their lease was about to expire, the two talked about ways they could be intentional about where they would move to help form a community.
“I was really just trying to decide where I was supposed to be,” Simmons said. “At the end of it I wanted to be intentional about where (I am) placed in the world and who (my) neighbors are.”
With their lease ending, they had an opportunity to think and pray about it.
“I felt drawn to the mobile home community,” Simmons said. “I think it’s an overlooked community. There are so many needs that people don’t realize are right in their backyards. . . I just felt called to it.”
The desire was there, but they didn’t have the money to purchase a trailer and they didn’t know how to start a ministry.
That’s when they approached a man named Michael who ran a ministry out of his mobile home in Orion Lakes neighborhood. He was tutoring, leading youth service projects and a Bible school in the summer.
By speaking with him, they learned about his experience and how he got started. Five years earlier, someone gifted him the trailer he was now living in when they heard he wanted to start a ministry.
Now he was getting ready to move out since he was about to be married.
“I no longer know someone who does trailer park ministry,” Simmons thought. “He won’t be of much help now.”
They did not expect what happened next. Michael handed Simmons and Waddell the keys to his trailer, as they were given to him, “no strings attached.”
It turned out he had been praying for someone to pass on both his trailer and ministry.
“From there we took the seeds that he had planted and started loving his neighbors,” Waddell said.
Simmons said the longer they lived there, the more they could understand the needs because they were part of their everyday lives too.
“There are a lot of organizations and a lot of people that do mission trips or they serve a community, but they go in and then they leave,” she said. “I do think there is a need for mission trips and these other organizations. I don’t want to discredit them, but there is something that means a lot to me about living in the community you’re serving and being in it with them.
“It’s not like we’re here 8 to 5. We’re your neighbor and you know we’re here all the time. For me, it’s been much more fulfilling and I’ve seen much more power in that than any of the mission trips I’ve gone on.”
In July 2018, two years after moving in, they achieved 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
Waddell said the process was difficult, but they had help from a friend who had been through it with another organization.
“We were led through it, but it was a lot of steps,” she said. “I don’t think it would have been nearly as smooth if we didn’t have someone holding our hand through it.”
They said becoming a 501(c)(3) was an intentional statement to the community that they are “all in.”
Next, they searched for another community to expand to, visiting trailer parks all over the county.
“It is not as easy to purchase a trailer as I had thought,” Waddell learned.
Two months later, they found a home in Parkhurst estates in Oxford Township, for $10,000 less than they were expecting. Thanks to the nonprofit’s supporters, they were able to raise enough money to purchase the Oxford trailer outright.
Waddell moved in to the new Oxford location, where she continues to live. Simmons lives in the original trailer in Orion.
Gratitude and Empowerment
To all the generous donors and volunteers that have made the food assistance possible, “I want you to know that our families here have felt it,” Simmons wrote on House of Hope’s blog. “They have felt seen, heard and loved. I know this because the source of those who want to help has shifted. I am hearing it consistently now from our families we are serving. They want to help, to give back.”
Waddell explained, “Even though things might be tight for them financially, they’re still working out ways they can give back. Whether that’s a box of juice boxes one week or maybe leaving an envelope with $5 in it to try to help cover the cost. Whatever it may be, it’s just that the community is so grateful for the help that they’re getting, they want to give back.”
House of Hope’s mission is to empower neighborhoods to lift themselves up. Simmons sees that happening. “I have seen more growth, empowerment and community involvement in the last six weeks than I have in our four years of being here. People want to give back because love is contagious.”
“Everybody’s always been grateful for the work that we do,” Waddell continued, “but it just seems like now in this time of crisis, everybody is looking for ways that they can help to be part of the solution. That’s been such a blessing to witness.”
Simmons says the food support has made a big difference for people, yet “there’s something more that comes with it.” For folks who receive help, knowing that they are not in it alone is just as meaningful to them. “I think a lot of people are feeling lonely right now. We’ve heard a lot that it helps to know someone is there as well.”
Simmons is honored to help in this way. “I love what I get to do every day. And I love that I’m part of this community and that I get to do this.”
Waddell agrees. “I personally am just so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it. I’m so blessed to be in a position where I’m able to help. I would want the same to be done for me if I was struggling.”
To donate, or learn more, visit the website HouseOfHopeMinistry.org.