PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – A local organization is taking back the community by providing food, clothing, and compassion to those in need. It’s an oasis for those with nowhere to turn.
“Oasis Social Ministry is a refuge. It’s a sanctuary. It’s a place where people can come and get the assistance that they need without being judged,” said Cathy Davis, executive director of Oasis Social Ministry.
When you step inside Oasis in Portsmouth, you are met with options.
“The first thing that we do is have them come through what we call our fresh produce and bread aisle here. They can take as much of this as they need to take,” said Davis, as she showed a WAVY crew the Oasis Client Choice Food Pantry.
Davis calls Oasis her passion project. She says there is a need in the community that must be met.
“We are serving, on average, 42 to 45 households a day with an average of eight to 10 new families signing up a day. We hold our pantries on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We changed our hours to 10-1 to afford a large demographic of population which is not currently being served, which is our working poor. That allows them to come on their lunch hour and do the shopping that they need to help fill that gap of need.”
Oasis Social Ministry serves Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and southern Suffolk. Davis says every day the nonprofit is open, the numbers of those in need of its services climbs.
Years ago, one of those families in need included Bruce and Traiveous “Trai” Grant. The two came to the Oasis soup kitchen when visiting their dad.
“I don’t know what he would have been doing if it wasn’t for them. Meaning if I don’t know what he would have been doing, that means I don’t know where we would have been also,” said Bruce.
Trai says he will never forget what Oasis did for his family.
“Our father didn’t really have much. So, the weekends we were with him, he would literally use his last dime to get the hotel down the street from the Oasis, and we would walk there singing cadence. There were a couple of times that we actually came here, and they were shutting down, but the people that were working there let us in anyway and gave us food to go back to have later on that day.”
Even though Bruce and Trai were young, they felt good knowing that when they were not with their father, someone was taking care of him.
“The help that they gave him really gave me some sense of security for him at the time,” said Bruce.
“It feels like our second home when we didn’t have a home, living out of hotels, and when we didn’t have a car, we would sleep in the car, and coming here, it was our home,” said Trai.
The Grant brothers credit Oasis with helping them realize that there really are people in the community who want to do good for others.
“Just coming to Oasis, it helped us to better who we are personally,” said Trai.
These brothers are now successful business owners. The two own a construction company called Solid Family Construction. Trai serves in the Army. Bruce is a barber at ICUTS Barbershop. They are even working to get their own nonprofit, Renovating 4 A Cause, off the ground.
Bruce and Trai are thrilled to see how Oasis has grown.
“Miss Cathy is the perfect person for this job, because she really cares, she genuinely cares,” said Bruce.
Davis says she, and Oasis volunteers, want to make sure clients are taken care of in a well-rounded way.
“It was really important to us here at Oasis that we provide an experience for our clients that is holistic, and not just their tummies, but their bodies. The body is how you function, and not only is nutrition important, but hygiene is important. 9.7% of the people that live in the City of Portsmouth are at, or below, the poverty level. If you are on food stamps, you cannot purchase hygiene items. So, it was really important to us to put that focus and provide that for our clients as well. We do toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, soap, feminine hygiene products, it’s exceedingly important as part of treating our community in a holistic manner.”
At Oasis, clients have a free selection of hygiene products.
“Personal hygiene items and food are a human right, and so we have done the best that we can do to remove the barriers to that,” said Davis.
There is also a thrifty boutique that allows clients to leave with a new outfit in addition to groceries. From head to toe, the clothing is free. There’s even a program for those looking for a new job.
“We do have a dress for success program where we do offer clothing for interviews and sustain, if they get a job, sustain business attire, at least to let them get a leg up. It’s part of preserving the dignity of our clients who find themselves in less than favorable circumstances. We’re not here to judge why they are where they are. or how they ended up there, but how can we help you be a better you? How can we support you and build you up? because every human being is deserving of that.”
In early June, Oasis Social Ministry re-opened its soup kitchen post COVID.
“We serve approximately, on average, 4,000 individuals a month through our soup kitchen through breakfast and through lunch. We do seven days a week. So, it’s always open and there for them, and those numbers they are climbing. We are seeing a lot more families frequent us on the weekend. You know, whole families,” said Davis.
As for who can use Oasis services, Davis says there are no qualifications.
“If you walk up to the door and you say, ‘I’m here for food pantry.’ Or ‘I’m here for a meal,’ we welcome you. We say come on in. Part of what’s wrong with our social system today is there are so many barriers placed in front of people to get the help that they need, and it is our goal here at Oasis to remove as many of those barriers as possible.”
Davis says her goal is to make sure those in need understand that they are important and not alone.
“The dignity that we show people, the respect that we show people who show up by our doors, is so important to me, because they are human. They are part of a race of humans. I just want them to have the food that they need. I want them to be able to go home and cook a meal for their family, to be able to feed their children. You know, to give our clients a warm blanket, a dry pair of socks. It’s those little things in life that make other people feel human.”
It’s important to remember, Oasis Social Ministry runs on donations. It accepts monetary donations, food, and clothing. If you would like to donate, click here.