coachella polo grounds Facebook pages helping communities in 4 states
Amy Jones knows what it’s like to go to bed hungry. The 46 year old Newport News woman said she grew up in poverty and struggled to care for her own family as a young Navy wife.
Jones, who moved to Newport News in 2012, said other military families helped her get on her feet while previously stationed in Washington. She eventually opened a couple of businesses there, but she could not ignore a nagging voice that she had another calling. Everywhere she looked, she found people struggling to provide for their families.
Jones founded the nonprofit Heart of Giving Inc. in 2013. The outreach organization connects people with needs with others who have resources to share. What is now a network of 70,000 people started with a single Facebook page in 2011.
“The last six years I’ve been doing this, I’ve just seen so much,” she said. “We try to help every way possible it’s a never ending need.”
FacebookThere are now 20 “Heart of Giving” Facebook pages in four states. Five of the pages are dedicated to Virginia Peninsula localities: Gloucester, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and Yorktown.
People on the pages give away free items, such as food, clothing and household goods. People who have needs can also make requests.
For example, on a recent Friday, one woman asked for winter jackets for her daughters, another asked for a vacuum, another wanted beds. Others posted photos of items to give away, such as dishes, bags of walnuts, a case of nutrition drinks, and a pair of boys shoes.
Most of the time, givers and receivers on the pages work directly with one another to make arrangements to pick up or deliver the items. But many people don’t have transportation, so Jones and a network of volunteers sometimes help with delivery, when they can.
The organization has a board and administrative team of about 26 volunteers who also monitor the pages to ensure people are respectful and no one is taking advantage of others.
“A lot of people want to give, but they want to make sure it’s someone who needs it,” Jones said.
Everything must be free, and the pages have rules to ensure that. “No selling, no trading, no advertising, no GoFundMe accounts. Such posts will automatically be deleted,” the rules post states. “Please do not ask where to get things for cheap, offering to pay, making payments, etc.”
Admins contact people who don’t comply. Members who continue to break the rules or are found to be taking advantage of givers are deleted from the groups.
There are also bulletin pages where people can post general questions, needs or offers for services, job opportunities, fundraisers and other offers and events.
Heather Reeves, the group’s executive vice president, said she spends a lot of time providing information to people who are facing utility shut offs, evictions or other housing problems.
But it’s also not uncommon for her to help deliver furniture or drop off dinner to a hungry family whatever is needed.
“A lot of people have no idea what we do behind the scenes,” she said.
The organization’s mission isn’t just to meet the initial needs but to build connections that help people better their lives. They want to empower people to grow beyond their circumstances and eventually help others.
“Our relationships are more important than the furniture we give away,” Reeves said.
Reeves started volunteering with Heart of Giving after Jones brought her food when she was struggling to make ends meet. She said the experience inspired her to want to help other people, too.
“I am here to serve people, that is my gift,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing this now.”
Beyond FacebookJones had no connections in Hampton Roads when she moved here in 2012. But her Facebook pages were growing. So she decided to launch a page here, too, hoping to have the same impact. In time, the relationships she built through social media helped her meet people on the Peninsula and beyond with similar missions.
That’s how Brett Riblett started working with Heart of Giving in 2015. Riblett, a local missionary and community outreach worker with HarborPointe Community Church in Hampton, was collecting socks to distribute to homeless people. When Jones learned about Riblett’s goal of collecting 1,000 pairs of socks, she created a flier and posted it on the local Heart of Giving pages. She received 700 pairs of socks from people in the Hampton Roads area.
Riblett said local people have contributed to a number of his missions since after learning of the need on a Heart of Giving page.
“They’re our lifeline,” he said. “When we need supplies, we reach out to them.”
But, like Reeves, Riblett helps with Heart of Giving missions, too.
The two joined Jones and a handful of other volunteers on a recent afternoon to deliver furniture and household items to a single mom in Williamsburg. Jones now also works with local departments of social services and other organizations, by referral, to collect and deliver items to needy families. She keeps a storage unit of items she collects for needy families, but she also posts requests on Facebook when a family needs items she doesn’t have.
“When we don’t have certain items, we will go ahead and make a post,” she said.
Erica Gardner, 25, of Williamsburg, was referred to Jones when she asked her social services worker for help getting dishes. The single mom of four told the Daily Press she had recently moved into her own apartment and was scraping by to feed and buy diapers and other necessities for her girls who are ages 6, 4, 2 and 6 months.