Pike Outreach - Topping, Howard

Autum Topping (left), Pike Outreach Food Pantry Manager, and Elisabeth Howard, Pike Outreach Executive Director (right), move canned goods to the area designated for pickup at the food pantry during the Thursday afternoon shift. Howard has been on the job since late June.

Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, keeping people in their homes, and helping in emergency situations is at the heart of Pike Outreach.

That same heart can be found in Pike Outreach’s new executive director, Elisabeth Howard, who officially began the position in late June. She worked part time until early August when she began her full-time work for the organization.

The Pike County Outreach Council of Churches handles Pike County’s food pantry and Bridgehaven homeless shelter, currently located on Second Street in Waverly. Howard will be leading a very active community organization, while helping them transition to a new location on Bridge Street in the former Heritage Nazarene Church building.

“I have worked for Children Services here in Pike County for almost nine years as their agency attorney. Most of my career as an attorney was in victim advocacy or poverty law,” said Howard. “After almost nine years at Children Services, I wanted to be able to advocate in a different way. With Children Services, they do such important work, and I enjoyed my time there. But I wanted to use some of my skills outside of the court room to see if my advocacy and background could have some immediate impact on folks.”

Howard is already seeing the fruits of her decision.

“One of the most rewarding things about the job that I do now is that if I have a bed and you don’t have a place to go, it is that immediate, ‘Sleep here. Take a shower. Let me get you something to eat.’ That’s enormously satisfying,” said Howard. “As you know, we live in a poor county, and there is a constant cycle of poverty. To be able to provide those basic necessities on a one-on-one basis is very satisfying.”

Howard is also looking forward to guiding the organization into the future while expanding the services they can offer in the new facility.

“I’m learning new things. I’ve practiced law almost 20 years, and this has been a good use of that, as I learn code sections for grants. It has been really exciting,” said Howard.

“With our purchase of the building on Bridge Street, I’m learning new things about housing codes and architects, getting to help the board cast some vision for getting us under the same roof so we can serve twice as many homeless folks at a time, and expanding the facility and modernizing it so the food pantry can be more effective.”

Other than a Saturday evening meal hosted by Heritage Nazarene Church of Circleville, the current Nazarene Church building is not used for worship. Those Saturday evening meals will continue. In addition, the building will be used in many ways as Pike Outreach transitions to that location.

Howard said the public will get the chance to take a first look at the first floor of the new building on Oct. 3. Pike Outreach will be having a rummage sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be selling church items, decorations, and old Bibles.

Talking about her transition to the executive director position, Howard shared, “It has been hectic because there is a lot to learn. Ms. Judy Dixon retired about two-and-a-half years ago, and they haven’t had a full-time director since she was there. She did such a great job.

“I’m trying to pick up the threads. The board, under Josh Remy’s leadership, has really sustained the shelter and food pantry in such a nice way. While it has been hectic because there is a lot to learn, I’ve had a lot of good support from the board. Our shelter manager, Sherre’ Kinnison, and our pantry manager, Autumn Topping, are both outstanding at their jobs. With the day-to-day operations as far as serving people, they do a really nice job. The team is very passionate about what they do. So far it has been very smooth.”

Howard, originally from South Solon in Madison County, said her first introduction to the area came when she worked for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services in Chillicothe for almost two years. She is married to Mike Howard, a Waverly High School graduate.

As Howard moves forward, her big goal is to organize a fundraising campaign for Pike Outreach and getting the food pantry and shelter under one roof in the new building so they can provide coordinated services.

“We’re also hoping with the multipurpose room in the new building that we can work with community partners so they can use that as a meeting space. With the kitchen space there, we hope to be able to do cooking and nutrition classes. We want to help to not just give handouts, which we are happy to do, but also provide a resource center for skills,” said Howard.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about is that I feel like Pike County has some of the hardest-working, big-hearted folks that I’ve ever met. Given the opportunity, I know the people in our county will help us work together because meaningful ends to poverty is not just giving resources but putting folks on a path to care for themselves. Marrying those two things is something that I’m very passionate about. Helping people where they are and continuing to feed, clothe, and house people will always be the priority of Pike Outreach. But we are hoping with this move that we can also add another piece with self-sufficiency support.”

Howard’s vision is that Pike Outreach is the umbrella where the food pantry and Bridgehaven homeless shelter exist. They have both always been a part of Pike Outreach, but not everyone is aware of that fact.

“I would like for people to see Pike Outreach as one entity with two functioning pieces that work together. In the past, I think people have thought of them as separate entities. But the food pantry and Bridgehaven work together quite a lot,” said Howard.

“From the food stocked at the pantry, we are able to feed our homeless friends who are looking for shelter and permanent housing well. Sometimes the Bridgehaven residents will volunteer a few hours in the food pantry in between their job searches.”

Howard says that volunteers are always needed and appreciated.

“If you can answer a phone and take a message for a couple of hours, that would allow our shelter manager to do case management and other tasks on her plate,” said Howard.

“Individuals and families are welcome to bring a meal. Poverty brings an emotional strain. They are lonely and isolated often. Just to have someone come in and spend time with residents means a lot. You don’t have to have any special skills. You just have to be a willing and listening ear.”

“We are the Outreach Council of Churches. Our mission statement and tagline always includes churches serving together. I’m anxious to reconnect with the Pike County churches. COVID has made this difficult as I came in this summer,” said Howard.

“I was raised by a minister. My husband, Mike, is an ordained minister. Churches and ministry are at the heart of what also draws me to this work. I feel like churches are this beautiful reservoir of not just financial support, but prayer support and community support. I want to revitalize and reconnect with the churches of Pike County because I really believe when we work together, we can serve so many people.”

This includes making sure the churches are aware of the services Pike Outreach offers.

“When you have someone come to your church saying they are hungry, they need gas money, or they don’t have a place to stay, I want them to readily have available referral information to Pike Outreach, so we can partner with and give resources to those churches that may otherwise not have those contacts,” said Howard.

“Josh (Remy) has done a great job of starting that. We want to build and expand on those supportive services and partnerships together. I think many church folks would enjoy volunteering. It is an easy way to make an impact that is low pressure. You don’t have to have any special skills, just a heart for people and a willingness to serve. It is very rewarding.”

Individuals interested in volunteering are welcome to call Howard at the food pantry at (740) 947-5171 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Bridgehaven phone number is (740) 941-4348. Those two numbers are also available for anyone in need of food, shelter and/or resources.

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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