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Operation Hope

Ending hunger and homelessness, one person at a time.

Article by Samantha Schoengold Beranbom

Photography by Dariusz Terepka Photography

Originally published in Fairfield Lifestyle

Operation Hope's Executive Director, Carla Miklos, has been a community advocate for over two decades, re-focusing her skills as a former leader in banking and corporate real estate to championing local homeless prevention and economic opportunity. Through her dedication and unwavering drive, Carla, along with her invaluable team and volunteers, has navigated Operation Hope's critical and significant impact on our community. 

Q: How long has Operation Hope been around, and how has it evolved over the

years?

A: Operation Hope began in the early 1980s as a response to the rise of homelessness here in our community. Thanks to the leadership of people like Reverend David Spollett, the former Pastor of First Church Fairfield and Jacky Durrell, the former First Selectwoman of Fairfield, Operation Hope opened a homeless shelter in the old police station on Nichols Street near Reef Road in 1984 to help give those in need a safe place to stay. Soon after we opened our food pantry there and began to help our neighbors who were struggling to put food on their tables. Our community kitchen began offering home cooked meals to those who were hungry. As we evolved, we recognized the need to build a strong social work component to our agenda, to help our guests with the challenges they were experiencing. We also realized that shelter, while important in the immediate, was not a long-term solution to this problem. 

Today we offer a comprehensive set of services designed to end hunger and homelessness, one person at a time. Our Homeless Resource Center focuses on homeless outreach, where we engage those who are unsheltered and help them access our system and get off the streets. Our Community Kitchen serves lunch and dinner, which are still provided by our generous neighbors so that others can eat, Monday through Friday to anyone in need of a meal. A series of Housing First programs are designed to house those affected by homelessness quickly and then wrap around services that will help them stabilize and increase independence. Our Affordable Housing Program is for those in need of long-term affordability and long-term services, while our Case Management Team provides support ranging from information, referral, help with income and employment, housing retention, and clinical support using a variety of best practices and a trauma-informed perspective. Our Food Pantry offers groceries and other basic staples to over 800 local households who are food insecure and trying to make ends meet. We believe that in this town and at this agency, we can create lasting and positive change for our neighbors in need. 

Q: What is the mission and primary goal of Operation Hope?

A: Operation Hope provides individuals and families the opportunity to experience transformative change. Our programs and services focus on eliminating hunger and homelessness and are designed to help people solve their crises and build stability in an environment where compassion inspires dignity and hope.

Q: What are the main sources of food donations and funding for Operation Hope

and for the food pantry?

A: Operation Hope is blessed that we have a generous community that supports our food pantry. Local people, schools, houses of worship, businesses, volunteer groups and more are major sources of donations for the pantry. From collections, food drives, online purchasing and individuals dropping off groceries – we cannot adequately express what it means to us and to those we serve.  People need to eat 365 days a year, so this ongoing support is necessary to be sure that those who rely on us can feed themselves and their families. Funding is a challenge. Our housing and social work programs receive funding through state and federal contracts, but these funding sources do not cover the costs to run those programs, so additional fundraising is always needed. Individual donations make a significant difference and keeps us afloat, along with fundraisers, appeal letters, and reaching out to foundations and other sources. We are so grateful to those who support their struggling neighbors by donating to Operation Hope – you are our lifeline! 

Q: Can you describe the process of how food is collected, stored, and distributed

to clients? 

A: The process of running a food pantry like ours is not simple.Our space is limited and that contributes to the challenge. We have many steps to complete, starting with receiving the food and ending with it going home with a pantry patron.

We have a team of volunteers that help us with inventory management. Sorting food received is necessary. Then searching for expiration dates and sorting by date as well. We store food clearly labeled by item type and expiration date and rotate food from storage to the shelves accordingly. It is a much bigger operation than one would imagine. 

Our pantry is open four days a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, and Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. We serve residents of Fairfield and Easton, and we also provide food for housing clients of ours living in other nearby communities. People are usually surprised to learn that we serve 800 Fairfield households, most on a regular basis. Patrons can visit the pantry twice a month. When they arrive, they fill out a shopping list to let us know what they need, dietary restrictions or preferences, and number of adults and children in their household. Volunteers fill their bags and we work hard to meet their requests with the food we have on hand. When possible, we can provide additional items like dairy, meats, produce, and home cooked frozen meals. People leave the pantry with enough food to prepare a number of meals before their next visit. 

Q: How has the demand for food assistance changed in recent years? What are

the biggest challenges Operation Hope faces?

There has been a definite increase in the number of individuals and families in need of food in our community. When COVID first hit, there were so many people who were suddenly not working or had their income drastically reduced, children who were not getting their meals at school, seniors who were not able to get out. It really demonstrated how fragile many households are. We were fortunate to be able to pivot to a drive-up, pre-packed grocery delivery system thanks to a committed group of staff and volunteers as well as assistance from Fairfield’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and our police and fire departments. And a local group of volunteers, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, inspired the community to pitch in and donate through regular, no contact food drives following a similar drive-up model. It was an amazing example of a town coming together to make sure no one failed during a difficult crisis. I would like to tell you that local food insecurity has decreased, but sadly the high numbers continue. It is an honor to be here for those who need us and we appreciate all our supporters who still donate to help ease their neighbors’ struggles. Operation Hope is facing a few challenges. Funding is a big issue for us. We are dependent on donations to provide core programming. I hope people understand how much we need and appreciate the financial support we receive so we can continue to serve our community.

Our biggest challenge now is securing a new facility. We have outgrown our two facilities. Finalizing a location and then raising funds to ensure this project is successful is critical to our future, allowing us to be present for the next forty years to meet the needs of our deserving community.

Q: Can you share what progress look like to you?

Every time a formerly homeless individual wakes up safe in his own bed, in his own place, with a lock on the door and food in the refrigerator, we have succeeded because he has succeeded. Every time a mom comes home from the pantry and can feed her kids without worrying if she should make the choice to pay the rent or purchase groceries, we have succeeded because she is not in jeopardy of losing her home or going hungry. Every time we are able to lift 

Q: How can the community get involved in supporting OH and the food pantry?

A: There are many ways to support our work, from attending our events, donating to our food pantry, cooking for our community kitchen, supporting our annual appeals, remember us in your planned giving, encouraging your kids to hold neighborhood food drives, introducing us to people who may be able to fund our work or open a door to a foundation or giving opportunity, join our board and more. We are grateful for the support of a giving community. 

Another way to support us is simple — A kind word or a reminder not to judge others can go a long way to stop the spread of harmful and dismissive talk. Everyone is doing their best to survive and aren’t we the lucky ones who have the ability to make choices that allow us to thrive. Everyone deserves supportive relationships, hope for the future and a place to call home.

Our programs and services focus on eliminating hunger and homelessness and are designed to help people solve their crises and build stability in an environment where compassion inspires dignity and hope.

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