For most of us, a cold Saturday morning in January means sleeping in and relaxing. But not for Hope Fussner.
“We have all these coats that were donated, some dry cleaned,” explains Fussner as looks over sections of donated clothing. “Scarves, so many of them are handmade. It’s amazing how many are handmade in this section. So appreciative of the community.”
She, along with a few friends, braved the cold weather to clothe those in need by setting up the second annual Giving Tree of Warmth.
“People need things just to stay warm, and that’s such a basic need. And with all the shelters downtown, there are people are living outside that do need that help.”
Haynie’s Corner in Evansville transformed into a closet, offering free items for the community.
“We collected over 450 items of warmth. So we have coats, we have scarves, we have gloves. Anything that anybody needs we have it today to hopefully help keep them warm.”
The idea was born last year while Hope was knitting on her couch.
“Last year, I collected 100 scarves, put them on this wonderful tree. And they were all taken within 24 hours.”
A simple idea, put into action by Hope, businesses, friends and strangers.
“I love our community. I want to make sure everyone is taken care of. I want to help any way I can. And this was just a way that I saw a need and I went for it.”
Going for it. A motto Hope lives by.
After moving back to her hometown of Evansville nearly three years ago, Hope quickly started volunteering.
“I was ready to jump in, and I have, and it’s been awesome.”
She was looking to adopt a family for Christmas when she connected with Ark Crisis Child Care Center. Hope now serves as a board member for the organization.
“I didn’t come from the best home growing up. And because of that, I see where children need help. And they need somewhere to go. And seeing how many children they affect and the lives they affect is amazing.”
Tackling hunger is another passion project for Hope. She feeds families through serving as a member of the Junior League of Evansville.
“I’m on the committee now for the mobile food pantry,” Hope explains. “One in five families do not know where their next meal is coming from. So, that’s a very hard statement to look at. With inflation, everything is more expensive right now. And we need to be helping others.”
As she gives back, Hope gains leadership skills.
“This organization helps us collaborate so well, and helps you meet other strong minded women in this city. And you can band together to help create a better city.”
Hope applies those skills while she’s working as a project manager for Mead Johnson/Reckitt.
“Making baby formula for children, but also making it better. I was on a team this year that made vitamins for kids that we’re coming out with.”
But Hope doesn’t just punch a time card.
“Making women stronger in business is something that I’m very passionate about, and my friend Christina and I are co-leads for Women@Reckitt.”
The group teaches girls about STEM careers, attends conferences and created a library of resources.
“We’re just doing different things to help the women in our organization grow and be stronger and make sure that they don’t feel alone, that they always have someone there to talk to.”
In 2023, Women@Reckitt plan to compete four community service projects and host lunch seminars on various topics.
“We branded some items this year with a logo and it says “stronger together” and I believe that with women, we are stronger together.”
Hope also has a heart for our four-legged friends and often fosters cats through the Vanderburgh Humane Society. She even adopted one.
“A lot of people tell me they don’t want to foster because they would keep the animal. I say to that, then keep the animal. You’ll love fostering. Just helping that cat or dog … you make an impact on them and then they do go to their forever home.”
Hope not only opens her home to animals, but also humans. She hosts dinners on holidays for those in the community who have no place to celebrate.
“My house is a constant, consistent place for you to be. From Christmas [or] Thanksgiving, usually have 10 to 15 people show up. But even Easter, I had 40, Fourth of July I had 50 people show up. People need somewhere to go.”
As Hope focuses on the impact she wants to make in 2023, she reflects on the lives already changed through her heart of service.
“I can help others, and I can be a role model to people, and I can teach others that there is a lot of good out there.”