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Nonprofit Fights Poverty With Poverty

CLEVELAND, OH—Helping Hearts, a nonprofit organization that assists low-income Clevelanders, marked its eighth anniversary Monday with its customary celebration of a box-mix home-made cake, a pitcher of Kool-Aid, and a promise from assistant director Susan Lindstrom to continue its tireless work alleviating some of the most pressing needs of the city's poor.

Helping Hearts staffers and their new coffee-maker; recent fund-raising will pay for its repair.

"We are a full-service, anti-poverty task force, committed to eradicating poverty with a multi-layered attack strategy, operating on multiple fronts," said Lindstrom, sweating heavily in the windowless, un-air-conditioned office she shares with as many as seven volunteers. "We will fight tirelessly morning, noon, and night, on every level until this widespread problem is wiped off the map."

Added Lindstrom: "Poverty is right in our backyard."

In 2005, Helping Hearts distributed over $4,700 in various food and clothing donations, found temporary and part-time work for more than 110 adults, and was instrumental in the passage of increased homeless and transitional housing funding in the city. It also had an operating budget of $18,280, putting it below the federally mandated poverty threshold for a family of four.

Lindstrom said Helping Hands is comparable to much larger organizations such as United Way of Cleveland, and the Ohio Coalition For Minimum Wage Reform.

"Our crack team of anti-poverty activists is totally devoted to marshalling every resource at our disposal," Lindstrom said as she stood under a flickering light bulb in the office's bathroom and added some water to an old toner cartridge to squeeze every last drop of usable ink from it.

"We've put together a base of operations here in this historical, mid-19th-century building equipped to attack poverty at its source," Lindstrom added.

According to Lindstrom, the organization recently acquired a stool with two fully intact legs and a 1987-model photocopier, and plans are underway to remove several of the dead rodents from the office's six mousetraps. A drawer full of mostly brand-new pens and a pile of used Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes envelopes for the most important reports and inter-office memos were all also "at the ready" to address any and all of the low-income community's ongoing long-range needs.

"What's more, we've got over 400 napkins accumulated over the past three years from the Blimpies down the street, in case anyone spills anything," Lindstrom said.

"Poverty, look out," she added.

Helping Hearts relies on cash donations and volunteer efforts from the public, whom it solicits at outreach tables in the city's bus shelters. It also saves money by using both sides of Post-It notes, buying off-brand grape soda, and drinking tap water.

Lindstrom said that with the new equipment and a boost in small donations in the last six months, Helping Hearts has made important strides.

"We've raised almost enough money to provide blankets and socks for the most needy in the office, which gets very cold in the winter months," Lindstrom said. "When you see that look of appreciation on the executive vice president's face, it's all worthwhile."

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