By Matthew J. "Heff" Heffernan

On January 18th, DC’s beer scene made a difference. A big difference. With the support of friends, brewers, and bloggers, H.O.P.S. packed Smoke & Barrel completely full on both floors, for several hours, in support of our planet's most vulnerable citizens. After the dust settled and the drafts kicked, the event raised over $3,000 for the International Rescue Committee's Suburban Washington Resettlement Center.

I've spent a lot of time in my career trying to pack bars with people, either as a guy running a bar or as a beer salesman trying to fill up an event. To have the greatest level of success toward that endeavor be a time when the dollars were going to end up in the hands of people serving the greater good, that made my heart want to burst with hope for mankind and gratitude for the charity of others. Those good feelings were compounded this week when I finally got to deliver the HOPS funds to IRC's Suburban Washington Resettlement Center office in Silver Spring. I had a lot of people asking me about their work in the run-up to the event, so I asked Development Director Nick King to sit down with me for ten minutes and walk us through the basics.

Heff: My hope was to try and keep H.O.P.S. as apolitical as possible. That being said, that's obviously getting tougher every day. How's it going for you guys, in your work, with the current climate?

Nick King: IRC has always been non-partisan. While the Trump administration's policies have impacted our budget, we still remain non-partisan. It's hard for us because our organization is on the ground, meaning that we are the first point of contact for a client, stateside. So we're not just like an administrative agency, we're actually providing direct service. Apartment search services, we provide case-management services, we connect them to healthcare, we enroll their children in school.


It's two-sided. We bear the brunt of the negative rhetoric in the community, but we also get the positive community support as well. Thankfully, Maryland is one of the more progressive states, and we do have a lot of support. That being said, we have sadly been seeing an increase in school bullying. I think our adults are a little bit more resilient; they've survived in a refugee camp for anywhere from 2 to 10 years, and they've fled war, but the children are a little bit more fragile. Some of our Muslim refugee children, they wear the hijab. We just got a report that another child just snatched it off their head. And we are the people who deal with that, and it's tough in that sense.

Wow, I can imagine. I'm trying to look at next steps for what I want to put together for H.O.P.S., and this story of bullying really rings a bell for me. Are there ever shows of solidarity being organized, getting progressive-minded families together that want to show these families and especially the kids that we're here to support them and that there are people in America that love and accept them?

I think that could work in a couple different ways. While our office doesn't do full-fledged advocacy, we do have a DC office that does. In terms of keeping with the school topic, we have our refugee kids in twelve different schools, and outside of them there's a lot of immigrant children in PG, MoCo, DC. If people wanted to contact people at the schools, or show up at a PTA meeting, email or call the principal, and say my child goes here and I support anti-bullying initiatives, and express that bullying is not an acceptable thing to condone via inaction. Some sort of language like that. We have printed materials that I can provide that people can use.

You mentioned that the budget has been affected by the new administration. What percentage of the total budget comes from the federal government, and how much of a reduction has happened?

About 80 percent of our funding comes from the federal government. No reduction yet, but we are anticipating a 5 million dollar deficit. President Obama had set the presidential ceiling of accepting refugees to 110,000, and Trump is holding firm at cutting it to 50,000.

Has the outpouring of support for immigrants in the wake of the travel ban led to a spike in donations to IRC?

Yes. We have definitely seen increased community support in terms of advocacy, in-kind donation, volunteerism and financial donations.

So we raised over $3,000, money goes into the IRC account. You guys have very low overhead. In terms of administrative costs, where are some of the initial places where the money will go to do good?

One of our biggest needs at the moment is what we call the emergency housing fund.  As you can imagine, to live in PG County or [Montgomery County] is very expensive. I think the average for a 1 bedroom is $1,200.  If we have a family of four, and we can only get one of the adults in the family working within their first 60 days, often times it's a job at $12 or $13/hr, so supporting a family of four off of $13/hr isn't always a reality, especially when your rent is $1,200.  What we find is that every now and then a family may be $100 shy on their rent.  They've been assigned with a case worker, and that case worker will fill out an emergency housing referral form and will say, "My family just had a hard month. They just need two hundred dollars, or whatever, to meet their basic needs this month."  And we'll go into the emergency housing fund and cut the check directly to the landlord, to make sure it goes to housing.

Another way is that every single newly-arrived family, we pre-furnish their apartment with meager stuff.  A kitchenette set, a new mattress, pillows, a week's worth of groceries, and whatever we can't get out of community support, they have to pay out of pocket, and a lot of our refugees come here with hardly any money in their pocket.  They just come with the bags on their backs. It's unreasonable to ask them to purchase four new mattresses because the federal government requires that each person have their own bed.

So what would be the monthly budget, in terms of actual dollars of support to an individual family for their first 30 days?  Does $3,000 cover a month of a family of four?

That's not an easy answer.  Every person we serve has two case workers, if they're an adult.  They have an employment specialist, who deals with getting them a first job, how to handle their paycheck, knowing their rights as an employee.  Then we also have a case worker who deals with their more basic necessities.  Getting them a Social Security card, connecting them with a doctor, all the wraparound case management services.  I believe it's the employment specialist who actually creates a family budget with them, and actually goes through that process.  If you aren't working, you do qualify for temporary cash assistance, and that's $925/month per family member.

I know that a lot of our families struggle with making around that minimum cost of living, but I don't have an exact budget number because it differs from family to family.

I was curious about that because in my mind $3,000 or $4,000 sounded like a family budget for a month, with the cost of establishing yourself included.  It sounds like we got pretty close?


Yeah!  Our model of success is that when we give money, we don't concentrate on one or two families, because if we serve a hundred families, it's hard to chose one or two to be the beneficiary of that.  So we try to do is amplify that money.  If we can raise $40K, we can put that towards a staff member who can support 200 people, as opposed to putting that money towards one or two. Or the emergency housing fund for example, instead of paying one family's whole month of rent, serve ten families just the amount that they need, because not everybody has the same level of need.

My concept with HOPS was very similar in that I was looking to procure free things from industry, and then sell them at retail so that the value of that donation is quadrupled, or maybe five-fold because people pay retail prices for it.  It sounds like you guys use that same multiplier mentality to stretch the value of it.


Huge thanks to Nick and IRC for the work that they do.  Can't thank everyone enough for their support.  Bill &, Fritz Hahn at WaPo, Mick Nardelli, Mel Gold, and everybody who assisted in pushing out the word.  Stone, Atlas, Troegs, DC Brau, Bell's, Jailbreak, Flying Dog, 3 Stars, and Manor Hill for the beer donations.  Harbs, Justin, Meghan, Chris/Mari/Jeff, Alex, Thomas, Nate, and Dave for doing the work within their breweries to facilitate those donations.  Jace, Logan, Ben, Marcano, Johnny and all the Smoke & Barrel people for their incredible hustle and execution.  I have the spirit!  Let's keep doing good together!