Yes, there is a pandemic.
Yes, the skies opened up Saturday afternoon and doused volunteers in Norfolk who were waving and hoping drivers would stop and donate money.
No, Regina Darden and more than 200 volunteers were not deterred as her H.O.P.E. Foundation held its second annual World Homeless Day telethon from the Murray Center in Norfolk.
“Homelessness is just a situation, it’s not who you are,” Darden said to cameras inside the center which were streaming the fundraiser on Facebook. “So many of us are one paycheck from being homeless. This could be any one of us….Give us a chance to give someone else a chance.”
Darden started H.O.P.E. Foundation — Helping Others Pursue Excellence — from her Virginia Beach home four years ago after she said God put it in her heart to feed and house the homeless.
Darden has been handling the bulk of the feeding part on her own. Last year, she ran an overnight shelter out of Lighthouse Community Church in Ocean View. Three times a week, she cooked dinner for the homeless, whom she calls “guests.” In between the cooking and staying overnight at the shelter a couple of nights a week, she put in more than 40 hours as a longshoreman. She also enlisted helpers to manage the shelter and work with the guests with other needs such as applying for jobs, counseling and registering to vote.
Getting the housing will take more work and that’s how Darden developed telethon. She envisions buying or, God help her, she says, a church or business donates a building that will be a fulltime home for her guests. Her people need lockers to store their belongings. They need a computer room to check email and job applications. They want to play board games and watch TV and need space for that, too. Having a safe place to put their babies to sleep goes without saying.
“My guests want to take a shower more than twice a week,” she said Saturday.
The pandemic is making the shelter a more pressing need, Darden said. Other homeless shelters have decreased their intake numbers to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Darden’s helpline has received more calls as people have lost work or seen it decrease. She could not have her summer overnight shelter and cooked meals at home. Darden boxed-up the food in disposable trays and met her guests in the parking lot of a downtown Norfolk church on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays to hand out dinners. Other volunteer groups are helping with meals, too. She also brings her laptop and sits in her car and fills out any forms her guests need.
So far this year, she’s also signed up 60 new voters, she said.
Saturday’s telethon began around 12:30 with tables of volunteers spread out to await phone calls from the public. At another, women waited with whiteboards stamped to look like checks to fill in big dollar numbers to hold up in front of the cameras. With cell phones, the room couldn’t fill with the jingle of phone rings. Volunteers instead rattled cowbells as people called with $300 and $50 donations.
People were also more likely to donate electronically, via the foundation’s website or Cash app. Churches and community groups had workers on street corners from Newport News to Virginia Beach in hopes that people would stop and make donations. The telethon ended at 5 but donations were expected to continue to roll as the telethon video and word spread on social media channels.
Frank Callender stopped by the Murray Center Saturday to wish Darden well. Darden helped Callender register to vote for the first time in his life. He’s 70. Callender lost his voting rights for spending time in prison but said he was too “apathetic” before then to even vote. That changed with the upcoming presidential election, he said.
Months ago, he’d heard about Darden’s work and called her. He didn’t meet her until last week when she stopped by his home to give him the documents saying that he could now vote.
“I was so impressed with her character and what she’s done for me,” Callender said. “I feel like I am a full member of society now. I’m very grateful for Regina.”
To donate or request more information go to the H.O.P.E. Foundation website www.hopefdn.org, mail, H.O.P.E. Foundation Inc. 2085 Lynnhaven Parkway, Suite 106, P.O. Box 128 or call (757) 241-6900. The foundation is also holding a golf tournament fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 22. Visit the website for more information.
Denise M. Watson, 757-446-2504, [email protected]
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