The Hope Chest is helping those in need

The Hope Chest at Cunningham allows individuals and families served by our community services program find donated home items.

Two women organizing household items in the Hope Chest, a supply area for those once homeless.

Hope can blossom from a single word: dignity. JJ, a case worker in our Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) program, feels this deeply when helping her clients secure housing and other services. Often, RHY clients have little or nothing at all when it comes to furnishing a home, and that’s when JJ will bring them to the Cunningham campus to search through boxed items in sheds and pods.

“Although they’re very grateful for the opportunity, it feels as though we’re digging for unknown treasure and not able to fully meet their needs,” JJ said.

Thus, the idea of the Hope Chest began to formulate.

“After chatting with Colleen, from our Advancement Team, about giving our clients the opportunity to shop our donations with dignity, the Hope Chest was born,” JJ said.

First, Colleen and volunteers moved items from multiple places into one location—one of Cunningham’s vacant cottages—and displayed them on shelves, providing a much easier experience for our clients. But more needed to be done.

In many instances at Cunningham, a need aligns with a volunteer request. and this time was no different. Members of Altrusa International Champaign-Urbana had been involved with Cunningham for years and wanted to deepen their support and connection. Giving clients a dignified opportunity to pick out household donations was the perfect opportunity.

The Hope Chest isn’t like other stores. It’s a safe place for people who’ve been homeless to find donated home items. From warm blankets to strong kitchenware, each item represents comfort and stability for those starting over. And what truly makes it special is the strong partnership between case workers and volunteers. Case workers, like JJ, provide unwavering support, guiding clients through the challenges of finding housing and addressing other needs. Volunteers, like Altrusa’s Monica and Carol, work tirelessly to organize donations and ensure everything is in its place.

“We can tell clients are using the Hope Chest by the numbers of items gone between our visits,” Monica said. “This makes us very happy!”

Monica and Carol have taken their efforts a step further by identifying high-need items, starting collections with members and creating a grant funded by Altrusa to help purchase these items.

As the Hope Chest continues to grow and offers support for those in need, it is a reminder of the transformative power of compassion and community. It is a testament to the extraordinary things that can happen when people come together to make a difference.

Contact Colleen Combes at if you want to learn more about donating.