Project Help started in 1989 as a grassroots effort of the Steuben County Ministerial Association. Their goal was to address the most basic needs of the community in one location, including providing food, toiletries, bedding, furniture, clothing, housewares, and school supplies. Today, Project Help serves as a community-wide pantry for Steuben County residents and helps direct people to the resources they need. They fulfill their mission of helping others to take a step towards self-sufficiency by collaborating with other organizations. Project Help has been essential in helping other organizations fill the needs of the community such as Faith Community Health Clinic and Mount Zion Coat Bank. Project Help also works to reduce any waste of perishable items, at times delivering them to other organizations including homeless shelters, halfway homes, and the VFW post.
The Second Hand Resale Store was started not only as a way to create sustainability for the programs at Project Help but to act as a gateway to helping those who can’t or won’t ask for help. Help may not always look like giving things away but giving others the opportunity to feel they can provide for themselves. Sometimes this means holding a coat for a gentleman for a week until he can afford to buy it at their store. Occasionally, individuals first become familiar with their organization by shopping at the resale store before they feel comfortable asking about other services.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Help has helped more than 100 new families. As a designated FEMA site, if they were to close their doors during a federal emergency, the National Guard would take over operations in order to continue giving vital services to the community. Knowing this fact strengthened their resolve to remain open to serve the public, despite challenges in recruiting volunteers. Amidst the pandemic, Project Help has received a matching grant opportunity from the Steuben County Disaster Response Fund. Sheri Frank, Executive Director of Project Help, shared that while we often think of giving to a food pantry through annual canned food drives, our dollars actually go much further. One dollar can be used by Project Help to purchase five times the food that a dollar’s worth of nonperishable items provides.
When asked what makes Project Help unique, Sherri Frank shared that the organization fills the deeply rooted needs of the community. Without Project Help, many of the people with the most need in our community would be without basic necessities.