Helping Hands adds new program

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Canyon Lake residents Jerry and Judy Swift serve on the Helping Hands Group Board of Directors. Photo Provided by Pat Van Dyke.

Many days and many times, one can walk down the streets of Canyon Lake or the surrounding communities and not realize the desperate situations that are present behind walls just a few yards away.  However, there is one person who has looked beyond these walls.

As reported in The Friday Flyer of September 2016, Canyon Lake resident Robert “Bob” Sasser responded to a pressing need that was so evident in the surrounding communities: to provide concerned people a pathway to serve the disabled, elderly, homeless, abused and low income with compassion and caring.

In order to have this dream become a reality, Bob founded the Helping Hands Group in 2005. In 2015, it became a formal organization with a non-profit status. The September article provided the boost to help the Helping Hands Group to become a vital organization fulfilling their purpose: “to bring people that care together with people in need.”

The five volunteers of 2005 grew to 40 volunteers in 2015; however, this past year the organization has seen many step up to help others. As 2018 begins, the list of willing individuals to make themselves available to help others numbers well over 150. Funds also started to come in and the Helping Hands Group was able to meet needs that they could only hope to help in 2015.  They now found themselves as a working organization making a difference in their surrounding area.

Just in the past month alone, Helping Hands had over 100 request for food, six requests for assistance from homeless, four requests for home repair, 124 job site visits, three resumes made and six requests from other non-profits for assistance.

Bob relates one incident in which they were able to make a positive difference in a person’s life. A local church contacted Helping Hands Group asking for assistance with a homeless man who was living in a local park. Over several months, Helping Hands helped him with food, clothing and shelter but they found that he sank deeper and deeper into his schizophrenia and became a permanent fixture in that park.

That was a lesson for Helping Hands. They learned to stop enabling people to stay on the street. They continued to visit that man and stayed in touch informing him of the various opportunities that were available for the homeless.

After two years of contact, he asked for help. He had finally had enough of the bad weather, the cold and the dirty conditions in which he had been living. Helping Hands then started the process of getting him off the street and into housing.

There are many other incidents during this past year that can be cited, but Helping Hands has discovered an even more pressing need in their local community.

While giving care and aid to the elderly in Elsinore, Hemet, Sun City and beyond, the financial plight of the elderly became more and more evident. Bob and his volunteers would go to the home of an elderly person and discover that they had no or little food.

Many of the seniors were going hungry. They were choosing to pay rent and utilities over purchasing nutritious food. Each month, many local seniors were living on peanut butter and water while waiting for their Social Security check to arrive.

Distressed by this fact, Bob and his volunteers sought to develop an additional program for Helping Hands. They began to discuss how to meet this need as quickly and efficiently as possible. The idea of a portable food pantry was discussed and just a short time later, a van was purchased and stocked with non-perishable foods to be delivered directly to the elderly.

In the past few months, this program has grown to more than 100 seniors and Helping Hands has identified more than 500 needy elders in their area of influence.

Bob shares alarming statistics: “Food Insecurity is a real thing that occurs when people have just enough money to pay rent and utilities and often not enough for medical attention or food. California Food Policy Advocates, reports there are more than 100,000 food insecure adults in Riverside County and more than 34,000 that actually go hungry. Our service area has more than 60,000 seniors living below federal poverty rate consequently we have more than 20,000 that go hungry.”

To meet the needs of the many elderly that have reached the end of their funds, Helping Hands Group has joined with Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino Counties. Feeding America provides Helping Hands Group with a steady supply of food so that their portable food panty can be fully stocked each week.

But there are still dire needs in which Helping Hands Group is looking for a solution. The number one need right now is warehouse space. Currently, Helping Hands Group relies on the generosity of a local volunteer for space in his warehouse but the program will rapidly expand beyond the space he has to offer.

The second need is nutritious food and a way to manage and store those goods. There is a supply of milk eggs, cheese, and vegetables readily available from Feeding America but no way to store or handle these foods. A large refrigeration unit is needed. And as always, donations of funds and volunteers are always needed.

The mission statement of Helping Hands Group is “People Helping People in Need” and it is truly just that. People with giving hearts are directed and given the means to effectively serve in the community.

Helping Hands serves the volunteers with the tools and direction to fulfill their mission in life; and the people in need, reap the benefits of their efforts. Everyone wins.

For information concerning donating funds, time, or equipment, visit the Helping Hands Group website at HelpingHandsGroup.us. Helping Hands also has a PayPal donation page or donation checks can be sent to Helping Hands Group, 31566 Railroad Canyon Rd., Ste. 2  box 1122, Canyon Lake, California, 92587.

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Pat Van Dyke