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Fairfield non-profit gets $1.5 million from State Bond Commission to find new home

Operation Hope's food pantry in January 2019.
Courtesy Operation Hope
Operation Hope's food pantry January 2019.

Operation Hope has helped chip away at homelessness and food insecurity in the Fairfield area for the last 35 years.

“We started out through a conversation between a local minister and rabbi that saw there was an upswing in visible homelessness. We feel that a big gap in services was outreach – getting out on the streets and actually seeing who’s in need,” said Carla Miklos, the organization’s executive director.

So it’s been doing just that since its inception through a variety of efforts. But up until now the organization has worked out of borrowed space. Operation Hope has grown from being just a conversation thanks to the town generously providing its old police station. A rental space less than a mile away is also used by the organization. But, soon, that could change.

The State Bond Commission recently approved $1.5 million to help Operation Hope find a space of its own.

“We are so grateful to the town for both of our current spaces but what they don’t have is what we really need today – good security so that the people we serve feel safe, enough room for storage for the pantry and kitchen, good meeting rooms, office space and easy access to get product in and out of the building,” Miklos said.

The organization serves more than 2,000 people a year thanks to it’s 32 staff members and hundreds of volunteers. It distributes more than 170,000 meals through its food pantry and community kitchen annually; runs a homeless resource center and manages nearly 70 affordable housing units in Fairfield – just to name a few efforts.

And that operation has only grown during the pandemic as COVID-19 further impacts mid-to-low income residents. Miklos said the organization quickly shifted its efforts to a contactless process when it saw a growing amount of people one paycheck away from being unable to meet their basic needs. In total, demand for services has spiked by 40 percent, Miklos said.

“What we’ve learned during this pandemic and over the 35 years is that we know what we need now in terms of space. We need storage, we need to be socially distant when necessary and we need to have a space that can serve the population that needs us most,” Miklos added.

Operation Hope is looking for a 12,000 square feet property that could support a commercial kitchen, pantry storage, parking and, ideally, is near public transportation. Miklos said the organization expects to find and renovate a space in the next three year.

While the state’s contribution gets the organization one step closer to their goal, they need around another 2 million which they hope to raise or borrow.

“The challenge in Fairfield is that properties are at a premium. But we’re optimistic and hopeful that we’ll be able to strike a good deal and do right by our community,” Miklos said.

The news from the State Bond Commission comes as a testament to the impact community members can have, Miklos said.

“Every community has people that are trying to make a difference,” she said. “The problems of hunger and homelessness are not anything new but we have real solutions now. And a community is best when it’s inclusive of all its people and that includes people who are struggling.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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