Ron Hewison and the other 65+ volunteers working at Helping Our People of Elsinore understand the causes of poverty are complex.
They witness it first hand. They see seniors on fixed incomes of less than $1,000 a month, and single parents with hungry mouths to feed. They see the unemployed who have lost everything, and aged grandparents raising grandkids.
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter why someone is poor -- for Hewison and his team it’s all about humanity.
“Our mission comes down to five little words: ‘to help those in need,’” he explained.
For more than 20 years, the non-profit H.O.P.E. has been serving the less fortunate in Elsinore Valley through its food ministry, but the task has become monumental.
According to Hewison, in 2005-06 H.O.P.E. provided 62,000 meals to area poor. In 2009-10, that number jumped to 729,000 meals.
Hewison, with assistance from his wife, Cindy, has been heading H.O.P.E. for “eight or nine years.” He said that while the organization would like to help everyone in need, there simply aren’t enough resources.
Instead, H.O.P.E. has established a hierarchy in terms of who it serves. At the top of the list are seniors, followed by grandparents caring for grandchildren, then single parents raising teenagers (“teens eat more”), followed by people on disability nearing social security eligibility.
“We help provide that bridge to social security,” Hewison explained.
Finally, H.O.P.E. receives daily referrals from the Department of Public Social Services, and there are walk-ins.
Hewison said income verifications are run on all H.O.P.E. clients, but he added that temporary assistance is available to all those in need.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” he said.
At its 3,500 square-foot facility on 2nd Street in Lake Elsinore, H.O.P.E. operates a food pantry, as well as a toy and clothing ministry. The location also serves as a hub for its vans that pick up and deliver donations.
“We had three vans, but we just had one stolen,” Hewison said, noting that police are investigating.
H.O.P.E. funding comes from as many sources as Hewison can corral, but community donations and grants are key to ensuring the organization keeps its doors open.
At 67 years old, Hewison defies senior citizenship. He bounces around H.O.P.E. headquarters like a wiry teenager. He is casual in his demeanor and dress – tennis shoes, shorts and a baseball cap – and he shies from publicity, preferring instead to focus on his work.
He says he loves his volunteers and the community service they provide, and that’s what keeps him going the 50 to 60 hours a week he puts into the job, which is unpaid.
“As long as I’m here, it won’t be a paid position. H.O.P.E. is 100 percent volunteer driven,” Hewison offered, saying he wants to keep it that way.
“It should come from here,” he said, placing his right hand over his heart.
Hewison knows he can’t continue as H.O.P.E.’s leader forever. He has put together a plan that includes finding his replacement, getting a private foundation to fund capital projects and relocating to a larger building.
He envisions a large-scale facility that provides services to help stave off poverty and homelessness, one where job search and resume training can take place.
He also wants to see H.O.P.E. return to its roots.
“We used to be 100 percent church-driven,” he explained.
The organization still works with many area faith-based organizations, but the task at hand is grand and Hewison said a collective togetherness with a single high-minded goal is needed.
Pointing to a framed picture of Christ that hangs in his office at H.O.P.E., he said, “it is about Him.”