When you talk to a newcomer to Sandpoint, you get the feeling that any second an orchestra in the trees will start playing Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World,” as though the song was written just for Sandpoint and its environs.
But not everyone in Sandpoint is experiencing the metaphorical blooms of bounty the song delivers up.
Jon and Cathy Pomeroy, who together direct Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, can attest. They run the assistance program funded by 19 area churches for people they have devoted their lives to help — people who may not exactly fit in most circles of the community because of mental health issues, bad luck, poor health; these are people in some cases who are part of the working poor who cannot make ends meet.
“They fit here,” said Mike Williams, who is the volunteer in charge of food distribution at the organization, located in the back of the Sandpoint Church of God at 221 S. Division Ave.
Formerly known as Love, Inc., Helping Hands, Healing Hearts was created May 9, 2017 as a hub for people in need of blankets, coats, food, clothes, and sometimes gas vouchers. They work with others in the community such as Donna Davis to provide shower vouchers at the YMCA and laundry vouchers with Nu-Way Wash-O-Mat.
Area churches donate food each month; others give financial assistance. Both Pomeroys are paid a nominal monthly salary from the churches. The Pomeroys co-pastor the Sandpoint Church of God, and though it is non-denominational, their efforts at HHHH coincide with their strong belief in the unity of all churches.
HHHH receives a lot of donations in the big donation shed in the back of the church, mostly clothes. Nothing goes to waste. The best donations are kept and put on hangers and the maimed clothing goes to the NW Center in Spokane, explained Cathy.
“What we need the most are temporary shelters for the homeless, but that is extremely difficult to find. We have a dream of building low-income studio apartments that would serve as transitional housing and a day center/warming center for the homeless, she said.
“In the past two years we have serviced 50 homeless singles, nine couples, and 27 homeless families with 52 dependents, and that’s just us,” she said. She and her husband work hard to find a warm place for the homeless, even when it means their house. In the past eight years they have invited 45 individuals to stay with them anywhere from a few days to much longer; one woman lives in the church.
Our next priority, she said, is food, then linens, and then dressers.
“We work with the Sandpoint Resource Center; it is a service provider information network,” said Jon.
When an individual or family comes in the door at HHHH, a volunteer gathers information about their situation and what they need, said Jon, but the deepest concern is getting to deeper issues. “Our hope is they find a church family for support,” he said, adding that they ask every person on their initial visit if they may pray for them. “We haven’t had anyone turn us down,” he said.
In the past two years, HHHH has helped four families whose homes were destroyed by fire. We have a limit on how much food and clothing we can share with people who come every month, said Cathy, “but we provide unlimited support for families burned out,” she said.
For those in need of appliances, beds, and furniture, they have a wish list and when furniture is donated, they call the person who needs it, though they never know what they will receive.
Williams spends time with each person to come up with meals rather than an odd assortment of say, apricots in light syrup with a box of bread stuffing. He especially appreciates donations of pancake mix, syrup, canned chicken, and bags of potatoes. “I can put together many meals with canned chicken,” he said. His wife, Beth Anne, is also an instrumental person at HHHH, doing a myriad of tasks, along with the other 17 volunteers.
HHHH has helped people such as Angela Mancuso, 32, who is now a volunteer.
“In 2008 I had my first stillborn and the churches paid for his service and burial plot. They asked for nothing. I moved to Tacoma and came back eight years later. They helped me furnish a camper,” she said.
Mancuso admits she used meth from 2012 to 2018; her son, born in 2014, was adopted by a family in Washington. “It’s an open adoption,” she said, “and I want to build a relationship with him. Being around other volunteers keeps me sober because they encourage me and they show me I have strengths I never knew I had. I feel good about helping people get their needs met; it gives me meaning to my life,” she said.
One local woman, age 51, who lives with her disabled husband in an alleyway one-room cinder block apartment with a concrete floor--$575 per month--says the happiest day of each month is the day she goes to “the healing center” for “new” clothing for herself and her grandchildren.
After her best friend was murdered in Spokane in April and all her worldly possessions were stolen from her 40-foot storage unit, Adrienne Sand arrived in Sandpoint with her truck and the clothes on her back. She stayed in her family’s remote cabin up Rapid Lightning. One day a neighbor told her about Helping Hands/Hearts and in no time volunteers brought her a cord of much-needed wood. “Jon and Cathy and the volunteers are the most amazing people, she said.
“I try to give back by volunteering there. I take the donated scrubs to Valley Vista and Life Care and I sort donations. They let me bring my dog, Hunannah (and also to the church services on Sundays) because she makes people feel at home immediately. It is hard to go to a place where you might feel badly about asking for help, but she is our loving greeting dog who makes it all easier, Sand said.
HHHH is open 10.5 hours per week: 1:30 p.m.-6 p.m., Tuesdays; 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The phone number is 208-263-6378.
Louis Armstrong’s wonderful life may not be the theme song here, but “Lean on Me,” the Bill Withers’ song on the HHHH website, works wonderfully.
Susan Drinkard can be reached at email@example.com.