Hope for the homeless

Oroville charity continues to thrive

Larry Hayden

Larry Hayden

Photo courtesy The Hope Center

Ten years ago, Larry Hayden was on his regular morning walk when he spotted a homeless man sleeping under a bush in Oroville’s Hewitt Park.

“What can I do to help this man?” Hayden asked himself, and then came up with an idea: He went home, made the man some lunch, came back to the park and, without waking him, placed a sandwich next to his reclined body.

Hayden said he enjoyed that act of giving so much that he started doing it regularly on his walks, despite the fact that he was on disability, and his family—which consisted of his wife Stephanie, their eight children and a homeless couple sleeping in their garage—was struggling with their own needs.

Less than a year later, the Haydens founded the Hope Center, a nonprofit Christian organization that offers clothing and food to the homeless and low-income families.

Stephanie said the couple did not want a “stupid name” or one that is hard to remember or pronounce. They wanted a name that would invoke feeling and create “a feeling of hope.”

The Haydens received a community donation, leased a warehouse on Lincoln Boulevard in Oroville and within two years outgrew the facility because of the response to their charity. People, they said, appreciated what the they were doing and that it was by their own initiative rather than through an established church.

The center continued to grow and in time moved into two 1,500-square-foot warehouses. Within four months, that space was too small. In 2009, they moved operations into a 14,000-square-foot building on Kitrick Avenue, where they are located today. The Hope Center now serves about 100 meals a day, six days a week.

Hayden’s wife Stephanie

Photo By Angie klein

Tuesday through Sunday, the Hope Center bustles with activity. Hot meals are served, food boxes are packed and given out to people, and clients, every six months, get to pick out clothing for themselves and their families at a very reasonable price: free.

The Hope Center also serves as a day-use center, providing shelter and the opportunity for people to play pool. It is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (the day-use portion of it is closed on Saturday and Sunday); the center is closed the second week of each month, though, allowing the Haydens time to be a family and get chores and activities accomplished.

Stephanie said that they’re not trying to duplicate what other nonprofit organizations are doing in Oroville but rather simply fill unmet needs. They also take the extra food or clothes to other area organizations, including the Feather River Senior Center, Head Start Youth Program, Salvation Army and Oroville Rescue Mission.

“Spread the wealth,” Stephanie said.

Ray Cooper and his wife Marie are two people who have come to feel welcomed and trusted at the Hope Center. They had been living out of their car for two years and were addicted to methamphetamine. Ray would work off and on at any job that would come his way. They would drive around stopping at places, looking for help.

They said that one day someone at the Nazarene Church suggested they to go to the Hope Center. Initally, Ray said, he would sit in the car while Marie went inside to get food. Soon she began volunteering at the Hope Center. Ray remained in the car, until the day when Larry approached him.

“I got a job for you,” he said. “You want to make some cash?”

Ray said “yes” and soon found himself scraping bumper stickers off the Haydens’ cars. A bond formed and the Haydens handed a key to the Hope Center to Ray and Marie, who help manage the organization. The couple are about to celebrate their seventh anniversary of sobriety.

A longer version of this story originally appeared in ChicoSol; go to www.chicosol.org to learn more.