It’s been more than three decades since a small act of kindness blossomed into an impactful and life-changing organization in Fairfield known today as Operation Hope. In the winter of 1985, Fairfield’s First Congregational Church opened its heart and outer hallways for any and all homeless residents to find overnight shelter. Several local, homeless citizens took advantage of this opportunity, which revealed to members of the congregation that there might be a larger, unseen need for this type of assistance.
Seeking ways that they could do more to help, the pastor engaged other pastors, a local rabbi and city volunteers to join the effort. At an initial meeting of 13 men and women volunteers, one member noted that contrary to the response to the efforts to provide shelter at First Congregational Church, a few town government employees had expressed that they knew of only two homeless residents, and neither of them wanted help. This comment motivated Fairfield resident Bob Stevenson, a member of Fairfield Grace United Methodist Church, to dig deeper into this issue.
He went home later that night and asked his four children if they knew of any homeless people in town, and not surprisingly, they all quickly shared stories of numerous people and the locations where they spent their days. Stevenson shared his new knowledge with the others at the next meeting. For some, it was difficult to reconcile this fact. Who would have thought there were homeless people right here in Fairfield, Conn., a wealthy suburb in the wealthiest county in the state? But the need was real, the group of volunteers spread the word, and interest quickly grew among residents and students to help.
One year later, in 1986, this group legally formed a non-profit organization called Operation Hope. Due to the overwhelming coverage they received in the press, the town gave the non-profit organization use of an upper floor in a vacant building by the police station, where they added beds for a men’s shelter and soon a food pantry on the ground floor. Operation Hope was also able to employ a social worker, who counseled the homeless residents on finding a job, managing their health, fighting addiction and more, and later expanded to shelter space for women and for families. Furthermore, many residents and students donated money or their time to help make a difference.
Today, Bob Stevenson, as one of the founding members of Operation Hope, says he will always remember the group’s motto, which was suggested by Rabbi Leon Waldman of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield and inspired by Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” Stevenson shared, “The quote has stuck with me all of these years and is still my favorite passage from the Old Testament.”
Luckily, this non-profit organization is still well and alive today, as they are celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary this year. Carla Miklos, the current Executive Director of Operation Hope, states, “We are not sure how we can celebrate during this pandemic – but we are excited to have been a part of the community for so long, serving people who really need us.”
Over the past few decades, their program has gotten so big, that their food pantry distributes packages to more than 200 families, 100 of which include children, and over 123,000 meals to neighbors in need every year. What’s even more special about this, is that this section is almost entirely run by volunteer workers, proving the compassion of Fairfield residents.
Continually, Operation Hope has implemented a supportive affordable housing initiative in the early 2000’s that provides clean and safe rental housing for previously homeless families and individuals. Within this guidance, the program provides reasonably priced rent, as tenants pay 30% of their income for housing, and supply support services that help the homeowners remain in their new housing and achieve any of their goals. “We realized that if we discharged people from shelter with nowhere to go, and if they didn’t have some support to keep them from revisiting whatever challenges brought them to homelessness in the first place, then we really weren’t solving the problem,” Mikos shares.
As for recent projects, Operation Hope “recently purchased and is in the process of renovating two duplexes near [Roger] Ludlowe Middle School,” Mikos states. The once run-down, affordable housing units will now serve people who are in need of housing. Another thing Operation Hope has implemented is a rapid rehousing program, which allows people who are discharged from corrections to meet with a case manager and receive a temporary subsidy for housing to help them transition smoothly. Lastly, Carla Miklos shares how Operation Hope also “has some funding to help people affected by the COVID crisis who have fallen behind in the rent or mortgage.”
When it comes to giving back, there are countless ways you can aid the Fairfield community. Miklos writes that students and staff can get involved by “holding food drives, raising funds and when we have need – volunteering to cook or serve in our community kitchen.” Furthermore, when the pandemic ends and events start again, there could be opportunities to help with those. Also, “spring and fall clean-up of some of our properties can be very helpful.”
Operation Hope has four different sections, to learn about their duties, hours and contact information visit https://operationhopect.org/contact/. For more information regarding different ways to donate and updated COVID-19 rules, you can also visit their website.