House of Hope History

House of Hope was founded in 1984 by a small group of volunteers who saw people suffering in our community ­and decided to do something about it.

The founders of House of Hope opened their homes to offer hot meals and fellowship, and they made sandwiches to hand out to people on the street.

The agency grew over the years, operating out of houses and storefronts in Jensen Beach and Stuart.

In 1994, thanks to the generosity of Lewis and Joan Madeira, the agency was able to build a permanent home at 2484 SE Bonita Street, in the Golden Gate area of Stuart. Through several renovations and expansions over the years, the Bonita Street building continues to house the agency’s central service center, food distribution hub and administrative offices.

The agency also gradually added full-service branches in Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach over the years. A stand-alone thrift store was opened on Federal Highway in Stuart in November 2014.

Following the economic downturn of 2008, House of Hope enhanced its programs and  services by adding case management – helping people develop their life skills to work toward greater stability and self-sufficiency.

Presently, more than 7,000 people each month are touched by House of Hope services. These services are nested under an umbrella of care called Project HOPE (Helping Others Progress through Empowerment), which offers Martin County residents food, clothing, furniture, financial assistance, information and referral, and case management services that help build life skills for a more stable future.

It’s a long way from those first sandwiches given out more than 30 years ago, but the services are performed with the same spirit – lifting people out of the pain and stress of hunger and hardship.

Food is Just the Beginning

Feeding the hungry has always been the cornerstone of the agency, but food is just the beginning — then and now.

An article in the Nov. 16, 1988 issue of the Stuart News called the agency a “seed-planting” organization that gives people tools for rebuilding their lives. “We’re here to help people in distress,” then-executive director Jack Raisch said. “Many need educational and vocational counseling, and we try to interest them in adult education.”

The 1988 article stated that the agency is “funded solely through donations, staffed by 50 volunteers and serves 300 people per month.” At that time, the agency had three facilities:

  • A main office at 940 NE Commercial St. in Jensen Beach.
  • A shelter at 506 Camden St., Stuart, with beds for six men and a cottage for a family.
  • A food pantry and clothing distribution center at 201 W. Ocean Blvd. in Stuart.

The agency leadership always had the dream to consolidate services in one location.

At one time, it looked like two buildings in downtown Stuart — the historic Woodmen Hall and the former Reed’s Carpet Store — might become the hub for the agency’s food and clothing distribution, homeless shelter and administrative offices. In 1987, the Stuart City Council granted a three-year lease and a zoning exception to allow a 10-bed shelter in Woodmen Hall on Akron Avenue. Those plans apparently never came to fruition.

In 1989, descendants of the Tilton family, pioneers of Jensen Beach, donated four acres of property just north of Baker Road and about one mile east of U.S. 1.

“We will consolidate all of our shelter programs on the land and put our administrative offices there, too,” then-executive director Bob Cox said. At the time, the agency had three shelter sites: a duplex in Port Saint Lucie, a house in Jensen Beach, and the house and cottage on Camden Street in Stuart.

Unfortunately, the agency was not able to build on the property because it held too much water, and the property was sold in 1992.

Although the shelter program did not continue, Bob Cox was able to expand the agency’s network of food pantries during his short tenure, adding branches in Indiantown and Hobe Sound to the existing locations in Stuart, Jensen Beach and Port Saint Lucie.

In 1991, the agency opened a thrift store in the downtown Stuart Publix Plaza, operating a food pantry a few doors down. It was in this location, in December of 1993, that donor Joan Madeira asked then-executive director Patrick Slattery about his dream for the agency. His response echoed the sentiments of previous leaders and volunteers: a permanent home.

Soon after, Joan and her husband, Lewis, made a gift of $175,000, which was matched with $59,000 from the board president at the time, Bill Van Tilburg.

On March 14, 1995, a 5,400-square-foot building was dedicated at 2484 SE Bonita Street in Golden Gate. With programs focused on helping the “working poor,” the building housed a food pantry, a clothes closet (which grew into a thrift store), and office space for “caregivers” — volunteers who talked to families about their financial needs to help them out of a period of crisis.

Just five years later, the agency more than doubled the size of the building, with a 6,800-square-foot expansion for the food warehouse and distribution center. Irvin and Evelyn Deggeller donated the property on which the expansion was built.

With several renovations over the years to accommodate growth in services and changes in programming, the building remains the hub of House of Hope activity. Today, the Bonita Street building houses the agency’s main food distribution center, a large Client Choice food pantry, the Elisabeth Lahti Nutrition Center, commercial-grade refrigeration and freezer capacity, a clean room, a conference and training center, and offices for professional social workers, case workers, volunteers and administrative staff.

Since 2016, the agency has expanded well beyond its four regional pantries (Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach), with five in-ground nutrition education gardens and one traveling garden, three Centers for Enrichment, and a production farm with packing house. House of Hope has established itself as the largest food bank for Martin County, providing food for over 30 nonprofit partners.

Leadership History

Robert Ranieri, Chief Operating Officer 2015 to Present
Elizabeth Barbella, Chief Operating Officer 2011 to 2015
Patrick Slattery, Executive Director 1993 to 2011
Arlene Bruttel, Executive Director 1991 to 1993
Robert Cox, Executive Director 1989 to 1991 
Jack Raisch, Executive Director 1984 to 1989
Toddie Neal, Co-Director 1984

A Note On Our Name

The agency’s official founding dates to March 5, 1984, when the articles of incorporation for Jesus House of Hope were recorded by the Florida Department of State. Prior to that, several people associated with St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Jensen Beach had been helping those in need by providing food, clothing and fellowship. These founders included the two couples who signed the agency’s articles of incorporation: David and Marni Abate and Robert and Toddie Neal. Others were Father Jerome Herman, a retired priest, and Deacon Jack Raisch and his wife Eleanor.

Realizing the overwhelming need in the community, these volunteers came together to discuss what more could be done. “We wanted to do something more substantial,” Marni Abate recalled. “We met one night in our living room to share our ideas and goals. It was then that I came up with the name ‘House of Hope,’ because Hope is my middle name. Others then built upon that name to call it ‘Jesus House of Hope.'”

Jesus House of Hope continues to be the corporate name of the agency. Since 2008, the agency has done business as House of Hope. The change was made in response to a significant increase in needs as a result of the severe economic downturn that became known as the Great Recession.

The board of directors, whose members included two clergymen, decided that the name change was necessary to achieve two goals: to  make it clear that all people seeking help are welcome, regardless of faith or religious affiliation; and to assure donors and grant-making organizations understand that the agency is not a church or a faith-based organization that would fall outside of their philanthropic guidelines.

The decision was difficult for some, but the growth in outreach, service and donations has shown the positive outcome of the leadership’s decision to change.