CUMBERLAND — For a time Thursday morning, two locations in the Baltimore Street pedestrian mall were converted into a winter staple store for those in need.
The event, “From Soups to Coats,” was a joint collaboration between local health and human service organizations: Maryland Wellness, AHEC West, Horizon Goodwill Industries and County United Way. People were invited to stop by AHEC’s Possibility Shop to purchase coats and shoes and other cold weather necessities, as well as hygiene kits.
Nearby, Lost Mountain BBQ served steaming chicken and rice soup and fresh rolls, and also had a small table with clothes donated by their employees to go.
At the Possibility Shop, tables and shelves inside were stacked with enough clothing to clothe “at least 100 people,” said Angela Greenwood, community relations coordinator for Maryland Wellness. There were coats, socks and shoes for people of all ages, and hygiene kits donated by the County United Way at stake. Outside, the Allegany County Health Department offered COVID-19 testing and other resources.
There was also a clear demand. The event began at 10 a.m. and about 50 people had been helped by 10:30 a.m., said Greenwood and Horizon Goodwill Industries associate director of workforce development Terri Foote.
Lost Mountain served three pots of soup at 11 a.m., manager Josh Hausrath said.
While people were asked to sign up for the Possibility Shop, there were no restrictions on who could pick up some donated items, though Greenwood said they were asked to keep two or three items each to make sure everyone who attended could get what they needed.
For Greenwood, who just completed three months on the job with Maryland Wellness, it was important that the first event she coordinated be “something special, something big.” She had the idea for a coat drive and contacted Foote about partnering with Goodwill, and “from there, the idea really grew.”
When he contacted local churches and businesses to solicit donations, “they just started pouring in,” Greenwood said.
“It was an outpouring of love,” he said.
The event was also a good opportunity for AHEC staff to help connect people with other vital resources like health insurance, said program director David Stewart.
Of the roughly 6% of Marylanders who are uninsured, half are eligible for free insurance, and Stewart and her co-workers looked through the Possibility Shop to help connect eligible people locally with that and other programs and supplies.
Thursday’s event was AHEC’s second and largest since the Possibility Shop opened in July, Stewart said.
“We want people to come in and tell us what they need,” Stewart said. “We won’t have an answer right then and there for everyone, but we will work to find it.”
Horizon Goodwill also has a home navigator, Andi Welsh, regularly available at the store, Foote said. As they work to expand their presence in downtown Cumberland, she said, Thursday’s event was a perfect way to let the people they serve know they’re there.
“It’s helping navigate the system, because it can be difficult,” Foote said. “If you are experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and all that, you need to have someone to guide you along the way. That’s what it’s really about.”
“If people start coming here, if they trust us enough to come here to get the things they need, hopefully they’ll trust us enough to look into what are the services that will help them get out of that situation,” he said. Stewart. “If we force those people to be invisible, nothing will change. Nothing will change if they feel like there is no place they can go.”