The disparities of poverty in Northern Idaho are great but often hidden. The organization Convoy of Hope offers to alleviate the burdens of poverty for one day, and volunteers are increasing their ties to offer help beyond the events in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
Convoy of Hope is a worldwide organization that manages a number of programs to fulfill the needs of thousands of people. They are first responders to communities affected by natural disasters and consistently monitor weather situations to be at the ready. They also run sustainable income generation programs for women, meal programs for children, and assist impoverished farmers with the skills and tools needed.
The organization was founded by the Donaldson brothers who lost their father after he was hit by a drunk driver. After the accident, they lived off the goodwill of their neighbors, said Eric Rust, pastor at Cedar Hills Church in Sandpoint. The founding brothers were part of his parent’s youth ministry.
“They wanted to give back worldwide the generosity they had received,” he said.
In the U.S., Convoy of Hope serves as an umbrella organization that allows local churches, agencies and businesses to have the Convoy of Hope days. They offer free services such as groceries, health and dental screenings, job assistance, and haircuts as well as prayer services and activities for children.
Last year was Convoy of Hope’s first time in Coeur d’Alene, and the response was overwhelming. While local coordinators had planned and prepared supplies for 4,000 attendees, they served more than 5,000. This year, they are planning for 6,500. The event was considered more than a success because of the relationships formed at the event.
“As a result of relationship-building, we saw businesses, churches and organizations working alongside each other like never before. No walls, just helping to make our community a better place to live and work and providing resources for our guests and their families to navigate life,” said Kathi Abate, one of the event coordinators for the CDA event.
Convoy of Hope does more than give away free services and supplies – it brings together a community that may otherwise be ignorant to its greater needs. After the CDA event in 2014, several of these business, churches and organizations have gone even one step further to organize mini Days of Hope at schools with the highest needs in the community.
“They said they wanted to make it last through the year,” Abate explained. “Most of these relationships were formed under Convoy’s ideas of community. They’re trying to grow that, but it just shows that when you bring people together, great things can happen.”
The networking of community agencies in preparation for Convoy of Hope led select agencies to organize smaller events similar to Convoy of Hope throughout the school year. James Curb, Program Director and Homeless Liaison for the Coeur d’Alene School District, helps families at risk for homelessness. He partnered Heritage Health along with area churches, businesses and organizations to have mini Days of Hope at the schools with the greatest needs. The events are held after school, so families could attend more easily and are hosted by a neighborhood church.
“We’re trying to create a network where people can develop relationships for what they need. Even if money isn’t an issue, there’s a need for positive role models … and also make (people) aware of what’s available to them,” Curb said.
Events last year focused on nutrition, recreation, women’s health and financial planning. Part of the goal is to show people what’s available to them in the community, such as classes at Gizmo, joining the Boy Scouts or taking bike rides with Bike CDA.
“We’re hoping you’ll see the same faces in your neighborhood, not just the county and make it intimate,” he said of trying to establish relationships between agencies and individuals who need their services.
At one event they “had the superintendent cooking hot dogs,” Curb said of the community involvement. He said they will continue to focus the events on the needs as they arise and according to the season, such as possibly educating about immunizations. “It’s just a way to start the conversation on what it means to live a healthy, meaningful life,” Curb said of the events. Events last year focused on nutrition, recreation, women’s health and financial planning. Part of the goal is to show people what’s available to them in the community, such as classes at Gizmo, joining the Boy Scouts or taking bike rides with Bike CDA.
Convoy of Hope in Sandpoint
The success of Coeur d’Alene’s event inspired Rust to reach out to pastors in Sandpoint about organizing their own Convoy of Hope day. They are planning for between 4,000 and 5,000 attendees.
“God used me by putting it in my heart,” Rust said. “Sandpoint has great economic diversity... It’s hard as a community to serve that need. This outreach will provide an opportunity for everyone interested to be a part of the solution – to give a day of hope that gives people tangible resources.”
Rust recruited Vicki and Dale Jeffres as the volunteer coordinators for the Sandpoint event. The main difference between the two events is the population they are serving. Dale and Vicki Jeffres are leading the Convoy of Hope in Sandpoint this year. They hope to reach out to as many as possible during the October 3 event in Sandpoint.
“We’re more spread out – from Oldtown up to the Canadian border and also the border with western Montana. These are the main challenges,” said Dale Jeffres.
The Jeffres and others have been spreading the word to Bonner and Boundary County schools, churches and businesses. They also expect a number of veterans since this year’s Stand Down event was not held, he said. The services, however, will remain the same as CDA’s.
“It’s going to be a blast. It’s not just about poverty but the community too,” he said.
Although poverty in Bonners County may be prevalent, its community support surpasses any other county because of the number of charity events held in the area. Jeffres said he knew of someone who typically leaves for winter who changed his plans so that he could volunteer at the event.
“People are coming out of the woodwork (to help). Bonner County may rank (high) in the state in poverty and Boundary County has to be close,” he said. “We’re doing what we should have been doing and lost sight of – taking care of our neighbors.”
Anyone needing transportation can ask local churches or food banks about rides. There will be volunteers and churches providing transportation for anyone who requests it.
For information on how to get involved with future mini Days of Hope events, contact Shelly Zollman from the North Idaho Family Group at 208.699.0126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.