BY CAROLINE POWELL
As the 2022 holiday season came to an end, the Friendship House in Newark offered resources for those in need of food, clothes and community.
Kelly Tompkins, manager of the Friendship House in Newark, talked about what exactly volunteers are trying to accomplish and how they give back to the Newark community.
“It’s more of a community because they can all sit in here and people in this area are pretty close knit, so they’re always keeping track of one another, making sure everyone’s doing okay,” Tompkins said. “This is a safe place for them.”
The Friendship House was started in 1986 in Wilmington, as a thrift store open to those in the community experiencing homelessness. New Castle Presbytery worked alongside a Maryland non-profit, Meeting Ground, to run the thrift store.
“FH (Friendship House) started to gain recognition among the community and the needs of those it served began to grow,” Friendship House states on their website. “In response, FH became a resource available to the community 24 hours a day.”
By April of 1987, due to the push to be licensed as a shelter, several faith communities in Wilmington collaborated to incorporate Friendship House Inc. to provide a multitude of services to individuals in need. Since then, they have partnered with 250 organizations across the state of Delaware to ensure gaps are filled and needs are met.
After years of providing hospitality to people experiencing homelessness, the founders of the Friendship House soon discovered underlying needs across multiple communities in the state. Tompkins explained that these needs had gone beyond just food or coffee: they also needed essential documents like identification cards or birth certificates.
“In the state of Delaware, you cannot get your driver’s license without your birth certificate; you can’t get your birth certificate without your driver’s license,” Tompkins said. “So what we can do is I can apply for a birth certificate for someone without an ID. I just use mine and kind of take responsibility for the person stating they are who they say they are.”
Essentially, Tompkins’s strategy to represent a person in need is through a process where she legally vows the person is not stealing someone else’s identity in order to assist them in getting an approved birth certificate.
Despite the challenges and struggles the Friendship House faces all year, it can be especially hard during the holidays knowing some people may not have anyone else to celebrate with.
“It’s kind of hard all the time,” Tompkins said. “It is difficult in the sense of knowing they may not have a place to stay or a family that would help them celebrate.”
Tompkins went on to explain that the local community is best known for giving back. This year, they had two different churches providing Thanksgiving meals — one the day before Thanksgiving and one the day after, where people were welcome to bring leftovers.
According to Housing Alliance Delaware, from 2019 to 2022, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Delaware on any given night more than doubled, making the Friendship House and its resources more pertinent than ever.