Director of Organization Advancement Antoinette Miles leads the scheduled one-hour tours twice a month.
The purpose of the tours are threefold: dispel myths about the working poor, provide a glimpse into services offered, and provide first-hand proof the nonprofit needs more space.
Reports collected by The Caring Place five years ago revealed the nonprofit provided monthly aid to 300 to 400 families and individuals. The number floated around 1,000 to 1,100 people on average a year ago when Miles joined the staff. She said the number now sits at 1,500 per month.
Word about the services provided by The Caring Place has spread without the facilities expanding to meet the growing need.
“More and more people are finding out they can get help. This is a place that cares,” Miles said of the increased numbers. “This is a place where they can be empowered to hope. We want to be more than a family.”
Three services have been added to The Caring Place’s list in the last 18 months: Karis Dental, Neighbors in Need and Diaper Love.
These programs joined the food and clothing services, Sac Pac program and social services assessment. The growing programs have expanded outside of The Caring Place’s base of operations to include four additional locations: a food warehouse on Wildwood Avenue next to The Caring Place, the Blythe Family Resource Center, the Bradley County Health Department; and Cleveland State Community College.
Miles explained the way programs are spread out across the city challenges efficiency.
“We can no longer host all of the programs here and continue to serve our clients. Unfortunately, what that has caused is some inefficiencies when it comes to staff,” she said.
“If Neighbors in Need were [at TCP base], it would be just a matter of referring them across the hall.”
Every tour begins at the front of The Caring Place’s main building. Clients meet with the social worker prior to receiving aid. The foyer and screened-in porch fill quickly. This is especially true for the first two weeks of every month when the nonprofit averages roughly 45 families an hour.
Miles explained the foyer sits 16 people while the porch provides space for 25. Everyone else present must stand outside of the porch regardless of the weather or season.
Miles added, “We could open more hours, but that takes more volunteers and possibly another staff member.”
The nonprofit has recently made a request for more volunteers to help man its extensive operation. Those interested undergo training for whatever position they fill.
Miles stressed it is important to understand where the clients are in life. Sensitivity is key.
“For people who come through here, they are in a desperate situation,” she said. “We just want to love them, so by the time they leave here they have hope and they are smiling.”
Every tour hears a story about a family or individual the nonprofit has served. Miles asks the visitors to consider the clients’ story as they make their way from the front of the building, through the men’s, women’s and children’s clothing sections and into the donation room.
Volunteers sift through bags upon bags of clothes. Items are separated by gender, age and season. Out-of-season clothes are placed in large tubs.
A local storage unit recently donated space. The unit has since been filled to the brim. A number of plastic bins remain stacked in the corner while the rest of the room overflows with clothes. Limited volunteers work as quickly as possible to meet the demand.
Miles said volunteers are always needed in the back room to handle the heavy, although appreciated, donation load.
Visitors on the tour pass Diaper Love on their left as they head out of the back to visit The Caring Place’s food warehouse.
Miles provides an inside look into each of the services as well as the nonprofit’s hopes for the future.
“We would like to expand the food warehouse so people can ‘shop’ for food they would want to eat,” she said. “...We have a lot of people who call that are home bound, but we have no way of getting our services to them. We see in our future some type of mobile truck, mobile van to take clothes to them.”
The tour is intended to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the work completed on a daily basis by the staff and volunteers of The Caring Place.
It is an invitation for visitors to be the hands and feet of change in Cleveland and Bradley County.
It is an opportunity to move beyond the talk and join The Caring Place on its continual walk of hope.
Those interested in taking tour, which are scheduled every second and fourth Monday of the month, or a private tour can do so by contacting Toni Miles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 472-4414.