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Friendship Room offers aid to local vulnerable with area residents’ help

HELPING OTHERS -- Bill, installed a sink on the porch at the Friendship Room, instructing its many guests to wash their hands before eating or taking food out of the cooler that always stocked with sandwiches. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Mollie McGovern said a recent video post on the Friendship Room Facebook page got a “great response.”

In it, she explained why she and her husband, Bill, started the all-donation-funded, private, non-government, Christian-based house of hospitality seven years ago at 419 Logan St.

“I did it because people are rightfully concerned (about the coronavirus pandemic), and I wanted to let people know why we do what we do and how people can help, and it’s important in times of crisis to not let fear paralyze us but to still find a way to reach out to people in need,” said McGovern, Friendship Room director, in a phone interview with the Herald-Star earlier this week.

“And that’s what we’re trying to do, and so we need people to continue financial support because we are here and on the front lines. We need people to really step up and help us in this time to help the most vulnerable,” she said.

“We have lots of hidden poor — people coming up especially late at night and getting food off the porch and from the free pantry and getting sandwiches and toiletries and cleaning supplies,” she explained.

“We are just really trying to maintain this very needed presence,” she said.

As coronavirus directives have been issued, the Friendship Room has responded in kind, installing an outdoor sink on the porch, for example, with a message instructing guests to wash their hands before opening the cooler or taking water.

The pantry is stocked several times daily, and everything there is to give away is in the cooler or pantry.

There are instructions to practice social distancing and to not gather on the porch as is the Friendship Room’s normal situation.

The Friendship Room’s cameras are in full operation with 24-hour monitoring to assure safety for all, she said

“Please, we know we have been a gathering spot for friendship, but right now we simply cannot provide that need,” McGovern notes in another Facebook post. “We are striving to meet your immediate physical needs and please know we and many others are praying for your spiritual and emotional needs. This will pass, we will all gain strength from this experience, but we all need to protect each other and show great love and patience.”

“We are really going to extreme measures and really just trying to serve the most vulnerable and educating people,” McGovern said, explaining that a woman called in recent days in hysterics, at a loss to understand what the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic situation was even all about. The woman had no Internet or cable television for information, and somebody told her what was happening. She was afraid and panicking about how she was going to get food, according to McGovern.

“A lot of people we take care of have no Internet and cable and don’t even know what’s going on and a lot of them mentally ill and drug addicted and can’t even focus on what’s going on, so we try to be very patient and help them understand this is serious,” she said.

In addition to the pantry and cooler, there is a free library outside as well.

“The books have been flying out of there, and people are loving the free books, and we always welcome family-friendly books,” McGovern said.

The Friendship Room is not, however, accepting donations of clothing and household items as it usually does, making them available on the front porch to those in need.

“We don’t want anyone congregating so we’ve stopped clothing donations and household things,” she said. “People can bring us canned goods, cleaning supplies and personal toiletry items and we just keep filling the pantry outside. When no one is around we fill it up. One thing people don’t understand is if you’re on food assistance, you can’t use that money to get cleaning supplies or toiletries so that is a real need — dish soap, laundry soap, Comet and anything to stay sanitary,” McGovern said.

“We fall under the category that we can remain open to serve our guests downtown much like a grocery store would. A lot of people come here and depend on us for their groceries and these things. We ask when people are shopping and if you have a couple extra dollars buy a couple cans of fruit or soup or vegetables or dish detergent. We can use it all,” McGovern noted.

“We are really using social distancing and wiping all donations down before they come back in the house,” she said of the varied precautions being taken.

A March 20 post noted the Friendship Room was serving to-go style food around the clock through the cooler on the front porch.

People wanting to donate food have been asked to ring the bell and leave the donation in front of the door on the 419 Logan St. side. They had been encouraged to call ahead at (740) 314-5095.

“We are strictly using social distancing in order to keep everyone safe,” the post noted.

There are several ways to make a monetary gift to the Friendship Room, including by mailing a check to P.O. Box 53, Steubenville, Oh 43952; using PayPal — friendshiproomsteuben@gmail.com; using Venmo — Friendship Room @ Friendship-Room; or donating on the website at friendshiproom.net or on Facebook.

An evening post on Monday asked if anyone could provide thermometers to give to families.

“We are trying to help people take care of themselves and educate them when to call for emergency aid. We are following CDC protocol, and we are not taking temps of people, rather we want to be able to give them to families for self-monitoring,” the post read.

The elderly and the hidden poor who are living on strict limits are among the vulnerable population the Friendship Room assists in addition to addicts, according to McGovern.

In her Sunday post, McGovern had explained that the Friendship Room has “a strong commitment and devotion to being down here with the least.”

One example was an older gentleman, walking with a cane, having difficulty with mobility, who “simply asked for a loaf of bread, a roll of toilet paper, some cheese maybe, some eggs, the basics.”

McGovern called the encounter heart-breaking.

“These are the people who live on the extreme edge — they’re already in public housing, with no extra money and those are the people we’re trying to help.

“We are dealing with many people who are addicted to drugs and now dealing with the very real consequences of drugs not being available, and they’re very sick and not really sure where else to go so what we can do at this time is we can feed them and give them personal hygiene items.”

A recent post offered another way to help: “If you want to ‘adopt’ a family in need or an elderly person who needs to be loved on during this stressful time please message us. Sometimes they need food, or just a phone call, maybe the kids could use some crayons or Play-Doh. Maybe you have an extra amount of Legos, an extra board game, playing cards.”

For information, call the Friendship Room at (740) 314-5095 or visit the Facebook page.

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