By Daniel Casciato
A financial crisis can strike anyone at any time and when people find themselves in hardship, they can reach out to organizations such as North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO) for assistance. For Sharon Wolf, executive director of NHCO, one of the most gratifying parts of her job is seeing people who have received help from the organization come back to return the favor.
“Once some people are back on their feet, they want to give back and help others,” she says. “They will either contribute financially, donate items or volunteer their time. I find it very meaningful when someone tells me they hit a rough patch several years ago and North Hills Community Outreach was able to help them through it. As a result, they now want to give back in whatever way they can.”
NHCO offers nearly two dozen programs to help people in hardship, crisis, and poverty in the North Hills community, including:
Food Pantry Program: As a member agency of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, NHCO operates three food pantries, providing food to nearly 700 families each month.
Utilities and Emergencies: NHCO might be able to help qualifying families struggling to pay for utility bills by connecting them to various programs that offer aid.
WorkAble Employment Services: This free employment counseling and career mentoring program helps those who have been laid off from a job they had for a long time re-market their skills to get back into the job market. Career mentors and volunteer mentors offer assistance and advice to aid them in the job search process.
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Photo caption: North Hills Community Outreach conducts several Sharing Projects annually, including a Back-to-School collection. Local children in need receive new backpacks full of school supplies so they can start the school year off right.
Family Development: Funded in part by a grant provided by the Allegheny County Department of Community and Economic Development, NHCO’s Family Development Program helps people attain stability and economic self-sufficiency. Service coordinators offer support and guidance, and referrals to other sources of help.
Community Auto: The Community Auto program makes car ownership affordable to low-income working individuals and families.
“Many of the people we help through our WorkAble Program and Smart Investment Programs are those who were laid off or find themselves in financial difficulty because they’re getting a divorce or their spouse died,” says Wolf. “Others might find themselves in a financially difficult situation, but are not considered ‘low income’ as it often is defined. Since many of our programs do serve people who are low income, these folks may think they can’t come to us for help. But we have programs to help everyone. We encourage anyone who needs help to give us a call.”
Throughout the year, NHCO also offers seasonal Sharing Projects where people in the community can help their neighbors. This month, through its Thanksgiving on Every Table sharing project, NHCO will distribute more than 850 complete Thanksgiving dinners to families in poverty, hardship and crisis. Collection of food items began in October and lasted through early November. Members of the community donated various food items—such as stuffing mix, boxes of instant mashed potatoes, cans of vegetables and a grocery store gift certificate to purchase a turkey—so those in need can have a full dinner on Thanksgiving.
NHCO is now collecting items through December 11 for its next seasonal Sharing Project, Holiday Toy Shops. Every holiday season, it holds three Holiday Toy Shops throughout northern Allegheny County allowing thousands of children in need to have memorable holidays. The organization collects new toys, games and other gifts in November and early December for all ages.
The primary service area for NHCO are the 47 municipalities in Northern Allegheny County. However, Wolf notes that some of its programs can help people outside of its core service areas, including WorkAble Employment Services and Community Auto—programs funded by the United Way and in which NHCO collaborates on with other organizations throughout Allegheny County.
“Some of our reach is beyond our core service unit but most of our programs serve people in those communities,” says Wolf.
When a financial crisis affects an individual or family, every little bit helps. NHCO is always seeking volunteers or financial contributions to better serve those in need.
“The only way we can accomplish all of what we do is with the help of people inside the communities,” says Wolf. “This includes school groups, businesses, congregations and specific groups that sponsor food drives or collections. We have people and families who donate in-kind items as well as provide us with monetary donations. We also have extraordinary participation by volunteers in this organization.”
Last year, nearly 1,400 people volunteered to help NHCO with its different projects as well as donated their time to work as receptionists and provide data entry assistance in the office.
“Another part of my job that I find very satisfying is the fact that North Hills Community Outreach is able to engage the community to help others in need so the entire community is stronger,” she says.
NHCO continues to seek assistance from those in the northern suburbs and beyond. If you’re a healthcare professional with a patient who can benefit from the services provided by NHCO, Wolf encourages you to refer them to the organization.
“We have literature we can provide to healthcare providers to either give to their patients directly or have it available in the waiting area,” says Wolf. “If a healthcare provider is able to provide some kind of service, like a flu shot or physical exam—anything health-related that might benefit our clients in some way, please contact us. Finally, of course, we’re always seeking more volunteers to help with projects. Any type of volunteering is helpful.”
For more information on North Hills Community Outreach, visit https://nhco.org.