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Helping the Homeless
story by Audrey Poff, photography by Kayla Broadway

When The HUB posted a need on social media last spring, it sparked a desire among the employees of First Security Bank that has resulted in an ongoing effort to help meet the needs of Jonesboro’s homeless community.

The HUB (Helping Underserved Belong) is a point of entry for the homeless and near homeless into the larger network of services offered throughout the city.

“While scrolling through Facebook, I noticed a post by The HUB that had been shared,” said Laura Bean, assistant vice president of marketing for First Security Bank of Jonesboro. “The post asked for hygiene products to help The HUB’s clients.

“The post really broke my heart, as hygiene products are something I take for granted. And, our community needs The HUB to spend their precious time on the mission to provide resources that help the homeless and nearly homeless restart their lives. I approached our local bank president, Brad Edwards, about The HUB’s need for hygiene products. He was completely supportive of First Security donating the needed hygiene products.”

In May 2018, First Security Bank delivered its first donation of 100 hygiene bags to The HUB.

“The whole First Security sales team gathered to stuff the hygiene bags,” said Bean. 

Since then, First Security has continued helping The HUB meet the needs of the homeless.

“I email Gwendolyn monthly to ask what the current needs at The HUB are,” said Bean. “So far, we have donated the hygiene bags (shampoo/conditioner, soap, deodorant, hand sanitizer, body wipes, lotion, razors, chapstick), cups, lotion, women’s socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, blankets and lots of backpacks. Also, I have been able to connect with some local industries for donations. Unilever donated products they make locally, like Vaseline, shampoos/conditioner and body wash. Jimco has graciously offered to donate lamps and throw blankets to help set up clients’ homes.” 

“Sometimes there just aren’t enough resources,” said The HUB’s Executive Director, Gwendolyn Zugarek, who served as interim volunteer director at the center before being promoted. “Telling people, especially with extreme weather, that there is nowhere for them to stay at night is heartbreaking. Additionally, the struggles that these individuals have faced or are overcoming is heartbreaking. It is so frustrating to see good people face so much.”

The job is fulfilling, however, when The HUB is able to help those in need.

“The success cases are uplifting, and it feels right to make your work about helping your fellow community members,” said Zugarek. “Seeing people make progress and helping them to find solutions and a way forward makes all the difficulties of the job worth it. I have seen people come in looking like they have ghosts in their eyes. These same people make progress, and they look completely different. They smile. They carry themselves with a confidence that was not there before.” 

Donations from the community are especially needed during the winter months when the center struggles to find housing solutions and keep people warm.

“We are always looking for backpacks, hygiene products and high protein snacks,” she said. “There is this stereotype of what homelessness looks like, and it actually fits very few of the individuals we help. We work with families that have lost jobs, individuals with health issues, those with intellectual disabilities, etc. We have even had people who are terminally ill or lost family members to illness that have nothing left related to care costs. Many individuals just hit a hard time and are not sure how to get out of it.

“This idea that homeless individuals want to be homeless is not true for the large majority of the homeless population, especially those we are working with at The HUB.” 

The HUB, which opened in April 2017, is funded through individual donations.

“We are fortunate to be part of such an amazing community that allows us to keep opening our doors through their generosity,” said Zugarek.
Lowe’s, Jimco, Nice-Pak, Unilever and Tyler Garnett State Farm have also made substantial contributions to the center during the past year.

In addition to donations, volunteers are always needed at the center, she said. They perform a variety of roles, including working the front desk, helping individuals with snacks and paperwork in the hospitality room and organizing the storage room. Intake volunteers who want to learn how to work with individuals on their cases are also needed.

First Security Bank Loan Officer Will Edwards said the bank’s role in helping the The HUB has made him more aware of the center’s efforts of behalf of those in need.

“One thing you don’t initially realize about The HUB is all the work, time and effort they are putting in trying to make a difference in the homeless community,” said Edwards. “They aren’t just trying to comfort someone in their current situation, they are trying to get them out of their situation – whatever that may look like and whatever the case may be. Their actions are completely genuine, and that entire organization has a passionate and caring heart for what they do. Ultimately, I believe that’s what it takes to make a difference. That’s what sets The HUB apart.”

Edwards said he believes in the importance of strengthening the community by giving back.

“I believe it’s important for First Security to give back to the local community, because it’s important for all businesses to play a role in making our community a better place,” said Edwards. “It’s a team effort. First Security prides itself on true relationship building and going the second mile for others, so working with The HUB is a perfect match for First Security’s mission.”

For more information about The HUB or its services, call (870) 333-5731 or visit the center at 711 Union Ave. Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.