ORLEANS — This town is known as the business hub of the Lower and Outer Cape, but it's also the human services hub. And that's due in no small part to the business community.
With the holidays approaching and the need increasing, the Homeless Prevention Council (HPC) and the Lower Cape Outreach Council (LCOC), both headquartered in Orleans, are working hard to keep Cape Codders from Brewster and Harwich to Provincetown afloat. Much of their people power comes from volunteers, and many of those have stepped forward from the Orleans business community.
Sassy Richardson serves on the LCOC board of directors. She also owns The Farm and chairs the Orleans Chamber of Commerce. Dick Laraja, a partner in the Laraja & Kanaga law firm, is president of HPC. Both have found real satisfaction in helping their neighbors.
Richardson said she was a longtime supporter of LCOC before joining the board. “I always felt they touched so many different aspects of the family,” she said. “It isn't just help with a medical bill. It's an oil bill. It's helping someone fill out a resume. They're so comprehensive in the places they touch.”
She has volunteered at Katy's Corner, through which LCOC distributes quality clothing and bedding for its clients - as many as 2,200 bags in a recent year. In the last five years, her farm has been the collection point for turkey donations for the Thanksgiving Drive; Richardson said the town's markets, restaurants, and other businesses are great supporters. LCOC works with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, St. Joan of Arc Church, Nam Vets, and Nauset Newcomers, among others, to provide not only a tasty turkey but all the fixings as well.
“The organization as a whole works tirelessly” to meet the ever-growing need in many areas, Richardson said of LCOC's staff. “The stuff they handle is unimaginable, everywhere from college kids to grandmothers... I heard today that some of the highest credit card debt is held by seniors. They're house poor, trying to just hold on to daily life... As beautiful a place as this is, it can be so difficult.”
LCOC supports eight food pantries and distributes food to organizations such as councils on aging. It aids clients looking for work by maintaining a jobs list and helping people prepare resumes. The organization offers short-term emergency financial assistance to help people pay utility bills and other costs of daily living. All profits from its thrift shop, The Hope Chest at Post Office Square in Orleans, go to emergency assistance funds.
“The need for gift cards for older kids is huge,” Richardson said. “The older kids want to pick their own things out.”
With other charitable organizations, the Lower Cape Outreach Council and the Homeless Prevention Council see themselves as part of a web of support for the needy. Richardson said HPC is looking for gift card donations, too, and she singled out its Adopt a Family program for praise.
“I've been doing that myself for years,” Laraja said. “The families are our neighbors. If they're under the threat of homelessness and they really do Christmas for their children, there might be a problem with the January rent, so HPC 'adopts' the children.”
Participants get a card filled out with a child's age, favorite color, sizes, and desires for a present. Laraja's “adopted” child is getting Barbie's Ultimate Kitchen and a karaoke machine. “You don't have to buy the stuff,” he said. “You can make a donation toward it, then HPC volunteer shoppers will take care of finding all that stuff.... We can still use families or individuals willing to 'adopt' a child to try to meet everyone's needs.”
Laraja got involved with HPC about six years ago when the agency called and left a message. “I think they were trying to get my law partner, Chris Kanaga, but that's something we'll never know,” he said with a smile. “I guess they were after me or him to become board members.”
It always pays to ask. Impressed over the years with HPC's mailings (“They were so clear and concise”), he met with founder Chris Austin and joined the board.
“We're working to prevent homelessness,” Laraja said, “and the goal is to assist and empower those individual families under the threat of homelessness attain self-sufficency and preserve their housing... We're assisting people to access available resources, access health care, assist with money management skills. That's the main mission.”
The cost to keep a family housed rather than in a shelter is much lower, Laraja said, noting that of the 338 families served by HPC in 2017, only one spent time in a shelter. “That's much better for the families and individuals,” he said.
Every summer, HPC conducts a “Backpack to School” drive which provides not only backpacks but also everything that goes in them (excluding textbooks). “Thank you for setting up our kids to succeed!” the website declares. Last year, 182 children from 88 families participated.
Another annual event is a fundraiser at Hog Island Brewery. Laraja said participation by the business community was “amazing.... all these gifts cards and items in the hundreds of dollars.”
Laraja made another contribution by performing with his band The Broughams at the event. “The band is legit,” he said. “It's a group that was together since third grade,” and was named after one of the fancy Cadillac models of the '60s.
HPC and LCOC, who refer clients to each other for particular services, have another connection with the business community: David Willard, a retired officer of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank whose longtime involvement in community affairs is legendary. He has emeritus status on the board of the Homeless Prevention Council and is board secretary for the Lower Cape Outreach Council.
“Massachusetts should designate him a state park,” Laraja said. “He's done more than any person I know to advance non-profit work on Cape Cod.”
Go to www.hpccapecod.org and lcoutreach.org for more information about each organization. LCOC is hosting a “Voices of Poetry Thanks for the Giving” benefit Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Chatham and a “Joys of Giving” reception at the Addison Art Gallery in Orleans Dec. 8 from 4 to 6 p.m.