In 2008, two friends began picking up donated bread and delivering it to one of their churches from the back of a station wagon in an effort to fight local hunger. Their work attracted donors and volunteers and eventually led to the formation of We Share Hope (WSH), a nonprofit located at 624 Main Street in Warren.
The organization has grown rapidly. Last year, WSH hired their first five employees, according to chief operating officer Cristina McKibbon. When McKibbon joined as a volunteer four years ago, four or five pallets of donations arrived each week. Now, the current weekly volume is 50 to 120 pallets, an amount that prompted them to acquire a 10,000-plus square foot distribution center in East Providence.
Numerous organizations donate to WSH, including some of Rhode Island’s best-known businesses, like Seven Stars Bakery and CVS. “We have perishable and nonperishable food, toiletries, and sometimes household goods,” says McKibbon. “It depends on what we’re given—we don’t say no to anything. Once those items come in, we assess what’s been given to us and sort it.”
In turn, WSH distributes the food items for free to about 60 nonprofits across Rhode Island, including churches and other smaller organizations. “We have different organizations that come on different frequencies,” McKibbon explains. “Some come daily, others weekly, monthly, and so on; some with one-time events. They usually give us about a month’s notice to gather the items they’re requesting because it trickles in—we never know what we’re getting for donations.”
WSH also operates three empowerment centers in Riverside, Warren, and Warwick, aimed at helping the working poor. Visitors to the centers can choose food items from the shelves for $3 per filled bag. The centers also provide health and beauty products under a separate arrangement. “People can find everything from razors to shampoo and laundry detergent,” says McKibbon. “We ask for a $5 donation for six items taken from that part of the center. We’ve found that’s really a big draw for people because everything is so expensive nowadays.”
Demand for WSH’s services is growing, but the group’s focus remains local. “We get calls from Massachusetts and New Hampshire and people ask when we’re adding empowerment centers in their areas, so there is room for growth and that’s part of the long-term plan,” McKibbon says. “But we want to make sure Rhode Island is well taken care of before we expand to other states.”