By Libby Rosequist
Harvest912 celebrates its first anniversary this September. The nonprofit was started by North East residents, Tad Jakes and Kit Voos.
With an uncanny beginning to their nonprofit, Harvest912 has provided over 100 backpacks filled with boots and necessities for the homeless.
After a church service asking the congregation to step outside their comfort zone to find ways to give back, Jakes and Voos never imagined this request would lead them to running a nonprofit.
“Following that service something just resonated with us, Voos said. “We just couldn’t figure out how we wanted to give back to the community until one day as Tad and I were going up Peach Street, we saw a homeless man with only one shoe. With no time to stop and help, we continued to Sam’s Club where Tad came across a pair of boots and said we needed to go back and help him.”
With no information on the man, it was a stroke of luck the boots they bought were the right size. Jakes and Voos also put together a backpack with food and seasonal items to help him get by.
“We couldn’t believe we had guessed the right shoe size and it clicked, in that moment, we knew we could make a difference with this,” Jakes said.
Harvest912 comes from the 9½ boot size that started it all.
Harvest912 provides backpacks and foot care clinics to those in need. The backpacks are filled with new boots, socks, blankets, seasonal necessities and hygiene kits.
The nonprofit also works with Dr. Anthony Colanna from UPMC and many volunteers to run the foot clinics. The clinics provide podiatric assessment and basic care, as well as backpacks to those who attend.
Harvest912 also works with missions, churches and shelters to provide a location for them to set up shop.
The clinics and backpacks are free but limited to a certain amount depending on resources and doctors available per clinic.
“It has been amazing to see the nonprofit grow,” Voos said. “It started as just the two of us putting backpacks together, and now we have a board of directors and are working with licensed doctors who are willing to volunteer their time to provide much needed podiatric care.”
The need to expand Harvest912’s resources became more prevalent during the pandemic.
“Erie County has an increase in homelessness and loss of jobs, resulting in a lack of insurance to help provide people in these situations with the medical care they need,” Jakes said. “We knew our next step would be to find a way to make Harvest912 mobile so we can access the more rural parts of the county.”
Harvest912 was approved for a grant that will provide funding for a mobile bus. The bus has been purchased and is currently undergoing modifications.
“Our vision is a one-stop shop including foot-washing, assessment stations, a full stock of boots, socks, basic hygiene and first aid supplies, all within a comfortable climate-controlled environment,” Jakes said. “It will be staffed with podiatrists and volunteers who provide footcare, education on foot self-care, as well as spiritual and emotional support.”
Under the grant, Harvest912 is required to hold 20% of its mobile clinics in rural areas including North East, Corry, Union City and Wattsburg.
Another source of funding is their hot sauce shop.
Jakes reopened his hot sauce business he started while living overseas in Australia.
Mad Cow Gourmet Hot Sauce items are available for purchase online or at Burch Farms.
The couple expects to open a storefront in downtown North East as well.
“Due to product growth, we are now considering opening a gourmet hot sauce shop in North East featuring Mad Cow products, other hot sauces and products, as well as fresh salsas and other fresh Southwest appetizers,” Voos said. “All of the proceeds generated from Mad Cow go to Harvest912.”
The next clinic is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 28, at St. Patrick’s Haven.
For more information on how to donate or volunteer, contact Harvest912 at www.harvest912.org.