D.C. Nonprofit Targets Homeless Population

By Bre’onna Richardson, Howard University News Service

Washington — Martha’s Table, located in northwest Washington, works to make a difference in the lives of the homeless and less fortunate by serving their needs. The non-profit addresses the essential needs of the homeless with food and clothing programs to ensure a bright future for children through education and family support services.

In the District alone, the homeless population is currently over 12,215. With this high number, the services at Martha’s Table are open to everyone as they seek to give members of this community a reliable and accessible support system. Martha’s Table offers three programs: Martha’s Outfitters, Healthy Eating, and Healthy Start. With people struggling financially, Martha’s Outfitters allows people in need to come every 60 days to get free clothing. They also operate a thrift store which is open to the public weekly. No items in the thrift store cost more than $5.

Store Manager Patricia Riddick has been working with Martha’s Outfitters for about a year. Riddick was excited to take the job at Martha’s Table because she feels that she can relate to a lot of the customers. At one point in her life, Riddick was unemployed and shopping at Martha’s Outfitters for professional clothes to wear for job interviews. Never would she have imagined that her next job would actually be the same place.

Riddick explained how people sometimes get so caught up on the little things that are going wrong in their lives without realizing there’s someone struggling to find food, clothing, or shelter every day.

“Until you see someone who doesn’t have anything… It humbles you a lot,” Riddick said. According to Riddick, the most impactful part of working for Martha’s Table is helping children who are in need. “Kids didn’t ask to be in this position. They were born into it,” Riddick said.

Martha’s Outfitters offers a wide variety of clothing in all sizes for men, women, and children. Members of the community make donations to the store daily; and additionally, Walmart and Target sponsor the store. In an effort to enhance the District, Martha’s Outfitters is always striving to make community members feel welcomed. “We are here for the community. Everything that we have is for the community. We’re here to serve them,” Riddick said.

Martha’s Table offers its Healthy Eating program which has served over 800,000 meals to families and neighbors throughout the city. A 2010 study shows that food insecurity exists in 17.2 million households in America, with 3.9 million of them having children in them. D.C had the highest rate of childhood food insecurity, totaling 30.5 percent. A 2013 study found that D.C. had a higher rate of food insecurity among children than any state. 30.7 percent of the city’s residents, under 18, live in food-insecure households. Of the 49 million people in the U.S. living in food-insecure households, more than 16 million are children. Some 31,000 children in D.C. didn’t know how they would get their next meal.

Volunteer Marie Breslin has been volunteering with Martha’s Table for about 10 years. She has volunteered with both Martha’s Outfitters and Healthy Eating, with the majority of her time spent with Healthy Eating. Breslin began working with Martha’s Table’s monthly community markets and emergency food distribution. Over time, after retiring from Verizon, she is now a full time volunteer with Martha’s Table, where she places the nightly food orders for Healthy Eating. Breslin says that her first thought, after retiring, was to “give back” to the community.

“Everyone deserves dignity and respect, and that’s all I’m about,” Breslin said. “People are struggling, with little access to food. We are here to help them.”

Healthy Eating gives people access to fresh, healthy food; it is essential for supporting stronger children, families, and communities. The program’s initiatives work to ensure healthy food for those in need and assist families in making healthy choices.

The final of the organization’s three programs is its Healthy Start Program. This nationally accredited program offers full day early childhood education to children from three months to three years of age. They also provide out-of-school time programming for pre-kindergarten and elementary-aged students up to the age of 12. This program has 12 classrooms, ranging from 1-4 teachers per class, and additionally volunteers who assist in the classroom.

Assistant Director of Healthy Start, Beatriz Barros, who has been working there for three years said Healthy Start was founded after the Healthy Eating program made Martha’s Table aware that an early childhood program was a necessity. They saw so many children in need.

“What you learn and observe as a child plays a role in what you’ll do as a teenager, and even an adult. Every child deserves the opportunity for their brightest future,” Barros said.