The cars start arriving just after noon in the parking lot at Hope Church of Charlotte. Some idle to keep the air conditioners running—it’s 91 degrees, after all, and hotter on the asphalt. There are families, seniors, college students—and they will wait for several hours, just as they do every Thursday, so they can be first in line for the food pantry.
“We’ve literally served in hurricanes and tornado watches and blizzards, and now a pandemic,” says Melody Leedy, director of Hope Street Food Pantry, “We’ve never not served anybody that shows up for food.”
In 2018, Hope Church of Charlotte opened Hope Street Food Pantry in a house on their property that had been used for storage. They weren’t sure exactly how it would work, but they knew the need was out there.
“When you don’t have a food pantry in your entire ZIP Code, in a county and in a city that is very food insecure . . . Are we waiting for somebody else to take that?” says Leedy. “We knew that it was us.”
Every Thursday, joined by a small, hard-working crew of volunteers, Leedy oversees the pantry’s food distribution to the community. The offerings vary based on the donations they’re able to collect, but this week is a good haul: fresh fruit, bread, two gallons of milk, and lots of pantry staples. Leedy places bags and boxes of food into open car trunks and greets the regulars. Some are talkative, some are hurried, and some have needs other than food.
“When people need food, they need something else,” says Leedy, “so we’ve used Aunt Bertha from the beginning.”
Aunt Bertha is the most widely adopted search and referral network for finding and connecting people to social services in the United States. Over 3.8 million users have found help on the online platform in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Staff and volunteers at Hope Street often refer their clients to Aunt Bertha for things like housing or transportation.
“Housing, rent assistance, utilities, child care assistance — all of these different things I know are on the Web site,” says Leedy, “and I use it all the time to pull out resources to specifically refer somebody.”
Over the past six months, 33,500 users from all 100 counties in North Carolina have visited the Aunt Bertha platform and conducted 111,390 searches for assistance. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for social services, with food and housing needs representing 54% of searches.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for social services has increased, with food and housing being the largest categories searched.
As a result of this increased need, Aunt Bertha launched a new resource site, FindHelp.org. This new platform prioritizes COVID-specific resources to support those who have been most impacted by the crisis. Since February 2020, more than 72,500 programs have been added to all versions of the Aunt Bertha platform nationwide, with 3,073 programs serving the state of North Carolina.
“Aunt Bertha has so many resources,” Leedy says.
Last week, Leedy recommended Aunt Bertha to another client, a man who had a medical emergency and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. His bill was $3500, which he was unable to pay.
“One of the only resources that I knew to give him was AuntBertha.com,” says Leedy, “And I think there’s dignity in that, in giving someone the tools, to put it in their hands and say, put in your ZIP Code, see what’s out there.”
Hope Street Food Pantry served 6,500 people in 2019, and saw an explosion of clients in 2020 due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In April alone they served 3,500 people, and they expect to see more coming.
Likewise, at the onset of the pandemic, Aunt Bertha’s platform saw a dramatic increase in electronic connections and the numbers keep climbing. In fact, there are almost double the electronic connections in North Carolina in 2020 so far (through July) than all of 2019. Electronic referrals in North Carolina have also exceeded 2019 figures in the first half of 2020.
An electronic connection is evidence that a user connected electronically through the Aunt Bertha Platform through either an electronic referral on our platform, connecting by phone (click to call), sharing a program on our system through text or email, or connecting directly to a third-party intake mechanism from our system.
Helping nonprofits succeed (in our small way)
As a mission driven organization, we do our best to focus on the user experience for people in need looking for help (Seekers) and the nonprofits that serve them. The thousands of organizations out there on the front lines continue to inspire our team. We know that organizations like Hope Street will continue to support its community in every way possible.
“It’s just something that we take very seriously,” says Leedy, “so we will never not show up.”