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article imageHelping Hands celebrates 35 years of meeting needs in Arkansas Special

By Kay Mathews     May 1, 2011 in Lifestyle
Bentonville - For 35 years Helping Hands has been meeting the needs of Benton County residents by providing food, clothing, and other social assistance and the organization hosted a birthday party in celebration.
Helping Hands is “a non-profit organization operated as a partnership of 26 churches from through-out Benton County.” Helping Hands is located in Northwest Arkansas in the city of Bentonville, which is the county seat of Benton County.
The primary goal of Helping Hands "is to meet the needs of those Benton County residents in need," and the organization has been doing so since April 29, 1976.
To celebrate its 35 years of meeting the needs of Benton County residents, Helping Hands hosted a birthday party.
One of the attendees and volunteers at the celebration was Wylene Cohagan. From 1972-76, Cohagan was President of the founding organization, Ecumenical Friends, which evolved into Helping Hands, Inc.
Wylene Cohagan  President of the Founding Organization  Ecumenical Friends  from 1972 -1976  that of...
Wylene Cohagan, President of the Founding Organization, Ecumenical Friends, from 1972 -1976, that officially became Helping Hands, Inc. in 1976. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Cohagan provided me with the story behind Helping Hands, stating, in part:
I was Ecumenical Chairman of the Bentonville Methodist Church in 1972. I asked our Pastor if I could invite other churches to a meeting to discuss community needs. The churches attending were; Christian, Presbyterian, and the Nazarene. Later, the Bella Vista Community Church joined us. We decided to meet monthly and named the group Ecumenical Friends. We wanted to seek ways we could work together to help others. As we needed funds, we decided to have a huge rummage sale at our Church. Over the next four years we had an extensive nursing home project, collections of school clothes and opportunities for socialization for needy children, and a weekly Friendship Meals for seniors at our church with over one hundred people attending on a regular basis.
Sign on Helping Hands  Inc. building.  Bentonville  Ark.  April 30  2011.
Sign on Helping Hands, Inc. building. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011.
Helping Hands, Inc. was formally established as a nonprofit organization in 1976 and continues to serve area residents by providing the basics of food and clothing, and funds to help pay for medicine, utility bills, school supplies and other basic necessities.
Helping Hands had a humble beginning, as Cohagan recalls:
Blanche Hubbard suggested we have a thrift shop in order for people to be able to afford clothing and other items, charging just enough to keep their dignity. It was a leap of faith, as we had no one backing us. We prayed that if God blessed our efforts, we knew it would succeed. We asked our Pastors to meet with us. They felt if we wanted to do this, it would be alright.
We then visited Thrift Stores in Fayetteville and Rogers. On returning to Bentonville, we looked at several locations. We noticed a “For Lease” sign by the Massey Hotel, 121 W. Central. The Benton County Democrat newspaper office had vacated the building. We called the number and found it was owned by Della Tromble, another Methodist and active in our group. We went to her home. We told her we had no group backing us, had no money and couldn’t sign a lease, but we would like to start a Thrift Store. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “I will give you the first month’s rent free, and I will rent to you on a month to month basis with no lease.” We were deeply appreciative. We held another rummage sale at our church and raised $300 as seed money. Each of us wrote a check for $25 for liability insurance, a telephone, paint and other materials.
The Helping Hands Thrift Store opened on April 29, 1976, and, according to Cohagan, "We could see God’s hand clearing the way as we saw everything beginning to come together."
And come together it did. As Wylene Cohagan's husband, Dr. Don Cohagan, told me, "It is a true ministry for her, and the results have been amazing to say the least." Thirty-five years later, the organization is housed in a spacious building that includes the large store, Food Pantry, receiving dock, and a storage area for sorting, hanging, and pricing donated items.
Clothing shoppers at the spacious Helping Hands thrift store.  Bentonville  Ark.  April 30  2011
Clothing shoppers at the spacious Helping Hands thrift store. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Household items available for purchase at a low cost at Helping Hands thrift store.  Bentonville  Ar...
Household items available for purchase at a low cost at Helping Hands thrift store. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Helping Hands  Inc. Food Pantry.  Bentonville  Ark.  April 30  2011
Helping Hands, Inc. Food Pantry. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Games and puzzles available for purchase at low prices at Helping Hands thrift store.  Bentonville  ...
Games and puzzles available for purchase at low prices at Helping Hands thrift store. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Helping Hands 35th birthday banner.  Bentonville  Ark.  April 30  2011
Helping Hands 35th birthday banner. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Some of the Helping Hands volunteers are featured in the image above. Volunteers are vital to the organization, and as Helping Hands notes, "Helping Hands was founded by volunteers and is still supervised by a volunteer board, which consists of representatives of each of the 23 partner churches."
Dr. Cohagan told me that in 2010 Helping Hands provided $2.4 million in aid to people in Benton County. That is amazing! But, as Wylene notes, the need is great. She said:
There are incredible needs. People are moving here to find work. It could take weeks, months to find a job. In many of our schools, 60-70 percent of the school children are receiving free breakfasts and lunches...There are people now needing assistance who once donated to others. People earning minimum wage can barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. Any unavoidable expense can cause extreme stress. The need for food in the Food Pantry is critical.
Helping Hands sign recognizing volunteers and their ministry.  Bentonville  Ark.  April 30  2011
Helping Hands sign recognizing volunteers and their ministry. Bentonville, Ark. April 30, 2011
Cohagan notes that "each manager, staff member and volunteer have brought their gifts of love, time and compassion to Helping Hands. Each donor has shown such incredible generosity. Our shoppers are so important also Only God could bring us together in such as way - our communities, all denominations, all ages - for the greater good of mankind."
If you would like to donate to Helping Hands, please visit this site. Or, to volunteer, donate, or shop at the thrift store, you can go to 320 Airport Road in Bentonville. For more information, call 479-273-2511.
More about helping hands, Social assistance, Community service, Food, Arkansas
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