House of Hope History

House of Hope was founded in 1984 by a small group of volunteers who saw people suffering in our community ­and decided to do something about it.

Celebrating 40 Years of Empowerment in 2024!

House of Hope comes from humble beginnings. The founders of House of Hope opened their homes to offer hot meals and fellowship and made sandwiches to hand out to people on the street. These founders included the two couples who signed the agency’s articles of incorporation: David and Marni Abate and Robert and Toddie Neal. The agency’s official founding dates to March 5, 1984, when the articles of incorporation for the organization were recorded by the Florida Department of State.  

The agency grew over the years, operating out of houses and storefronts in Jensen Beach and Stuart.

In 1994, thanks to the generosity of Lewis and Joan Madeira, the agency was able to build a permanent home at 2484 SE Bonita Street, in the Golden Gate area of Stuart. Through several renovations and expansions over the years, the Bonita Street building continues to serve as the organization’s headquarters, housing the largest of four food pantries, case management services, food distribution hub, Elisabeth Lahti Nutrition Center, and administrative offices.

The agency also gradually added full-service branches in Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach over the years. A stand-alone thrift store was opened on Federal Highway in Stuart in November 2014.

Following the economic downturn of 2008, House of Hope enhanced its programs and services by adding case management – helping people develop their life skills to work toward greater stability and self-sufficiency.

House of Hope has continued to grow and add many new programs and services over the years.  They include workforce development, life skills classes, nutrition education, a hydroponic farm, and more.

Presently, more than 8,000 people each month are touched by House of Hope services. These services are nested under an umbrella of care called Project HOPE (Helping Others Progress through Empowerment), which offers Martin County residents food, clothing, furniture, financial assistance, information and referral, and case management services that help build life skills for a more stable future. An additional 13,000 people receive support through the agency’s food bank services in Martin, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee counties. This brings the total served each month to over 21,000 people.

It’s a long way from those first sandwiches given out more than 40 years ago, but the services are performed with the same spirit – empowering residents to overcome hunger and hardship.

Food is Just the Beginning

Feeding the hungry has always been the cornerstone of the agency, but food is just the beginning — then and now.

An article in the Nov. 16, 1988 issue of the Stuart News called the agency a “seed-planting” organization that gives people tools for rebuilding their lives.

The 1988 article stated that the agency is “funded solely through donations, staffed by 50 volunteers and serves 300 people per month.” At that time, the agency had three facilities:

  • A main office at 940 NE Commercial St. in Jensen Beach.

  • A shelter at 506 Camden St., Stuart, with beds for six men and a cottage for a family.

  • A food pantry and clothing distribution center at 201 W. Ocean Blvd. in Stuart. 

Although the shelter program did not continue, from 1989 to 1991 the agency’s network of food pantries expanded, adding branches in Indiantown and Hobe Sound.

In 1994, substantial gifts from Lewis and Joan Madeira as well as then board chair Bill Van Tilburg and his wife Juanita, gave House of Hope a permanent headquarters.

On March 14, 1995, a 5,400-square-foot building was dedicated at 2484 SE Bonita Street in Golden Gate. With programs focused on helping the “working poor,” the building housed a food pantry, a clothes closet (which grew into a thrift store), and office space for “caregivers” — volunteers who talked to families about their financial needs to help them out of a period of crisis.

Just five years later, the agency more than doubled the size of the building, with a 6,800-square-foot expansion for the food warehouse and distribution center. Irvin and Evelyn Deggeller donated the property on which the expansion was built.

With several renovations over the years to accommodate growth in services and changes in programming, the building remains the hub of House of Hope activity. Today, the Bonita Street building houses the agency’s main food distribution center, a large Client Choice food pantry, the Elisabeth Lahti Nutrition Center, commercial-grade refrigeration and freezer capacity, a conference and training center, and offices for professional social workers, case workers, and administrative staff.

Since 2016, the agency has expanded well beyond its four regional pantries (Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach). In 2016, the Bonita Street headquarters was renovated to improve capacity in the food warehouse, expand the Client Choice food pantry, add administrative offices, and create a spacious and welcoming client intake area. The Elisabeth Lahti Nutrition Center was also added, which is a state of the art commercial kitchen to make hot meals, sandwiches and salads, package food and more. Rounding out a busy year, 2016 also brought the expansion of the main thrift store, The Hope Shop, on Federal Highway in Stuart. The store doubled in size to over 14,000 square feet of retail space, and serves as a revenue generator for the organization, a job training hub for clients, and a program to provide no-cost clothing, housewares and furniture to clients and partners.

The Golden Gate Center for Enrichment, in partnership with the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, opened in 2017. The Center, located in the historic Golden Gate building, was the agency’s first dedicated enrichment program space with free classes and programs for all ages centered on health and nutrition, education, job readiness, computer access, the arts and more. Two more Centers have been added since. Part of the Jensen Beach Service Center was converted to enrichment space in 2021, and in 2023 the KinDoo Family Center for Enrichment in Indiantown was passed on to House of Hope to continue the work of its founders.

In 2017, House of Hope made a concerted effort to focus on the quality of food being distributed in its pantries to combat the higher rates of diet-related chronic illness in low-income communities. With the goal of providing more fresh, healthy produce and educating folks about the benefits of healthy habits, House of Hope planted its first nutrition education garden behind the Golden Gate Center for Enrichment. Since then, gardens have been added at Banner Lake, East Stuart and the YMCA in Stuart. An innovative Traveling Garden was added in 2021 to bring nutrition programs to area residents who could not access the in-ground gardens. The nutrition and gardening education program now reaches nearly 5,000 children and adults each year teaching the benefits of healthy habits and growing food at home.

To meet the increasing demand for produce, the dream of Growing Hope Farm became a reality in 2018. The farm is on land generously provided by the Dawson family next to their produce market in Palm City. Every year since it was started, the farm has successfully added infrastructure. Today there is over 97,500 cubic feet of hydroponic greenhouse growing space, a 70 tree orchard, and in-ground crops. A state of the art packing facility opened on site in 2023. In early 2024, an additional greenhouse was added to the footprint, all to support the concept of better health and nutrition as a means to achieve stability for the families that House of Hope serves.

House of Hope is committed to collaborating with community partners and supporters to continue to add and expand programs to address common obstacles that individuals face when trying to become financially stable. In addition to serving clients through its four pantries, the agency has become the largest food bank in Martin County, distributing over 600,000 pounds of food annually to 30 nonprofit soup kitchens, shelters, smaller pantries, youth programs and more. Clients have access to both a Workforce Coordinator, who is dedicated to helping them along the path toward securing living wage employment, and a Housing Coordinator, who is available to help them find pathways to safe, affordable housing in the area. Enrichment programs continually evolve to meet the needs of the communities they serve. 

The current leadership team and board of directors recently launched their new strategic plan to continue to empower residents to overcome hunger and hardship. House of Hope is the leading safety net service provider in the region, and a cutting edge, national model on how to combat poverty.


Leadership History

Robert Ranieri, Chief Operating Officer 2015 to Present
Elizabeth Barbella, Chief Operating Officer 2011 to 2015
Patrick Slattery, Executive Director 1993 to 2011
Arlene Bruttel, Executive Director 1991 to 1993
Robert Cox, Executive Director 1989 to 1991 
Jack Raisch, Executive Director 1984 to 1989
Toddie Neal, Co-Director 1984