Port Jefferson woman gives back to her community

Port Jefferson woman gives back to her community

Melissa Paulson outside her new location. Photo by Julianne Mosher

COVID-19 has been tough on nonprofits,  but that isn’t stopping Melissa Paulson from helping others. 

Give Kids Hope Inc. is a 501c3 that Paulson started up nine years ago, after her daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma at just 18 months old. 

Paulson, who is a stay-at-home mom, decided to devote all of her free time to charity. 

“I knew I wanted to do something to help other families in similar situations,” she said.

That’s when Give Kids Hope was born. Paulson created the nonprofit to help children and their families battling cancer.

But as the years went on, Paulson began seeing how many other people were in need around her. 

“There are so many less fortunate people in the community,” she said. “I never realized how many Long Islanders are struggling just to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads.”

An inside look at Give Kids Hope’s food pantry in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

She began gathering supplies she knew people would need, especially around the holidays, to donate to shelters, housing units and food pantries — and she was doing it out of her home for many of those years. 

“I put a plea out and a generous donor gave me $5,000 dollars to open a center up,” she said. “It’s a facility so people can come and ‘shop’ completely free.”

The brick and mortar location opened up on July 1 and have so far helped nearly 7,000 families across Long Island, Paulson said. 

She added that people who need a helping hand will find her group on Facebook, through local churches and by word of mouth. 

“We get a lot of walk ins,” she said. “Sadly, it’s homeless people asking for clothing.

And she said the community has been “so responsive” to her cause, but she could use more help to reach out to more people.

“I think if people knew what we did then more people would get involved,” she said.

Compared to other similar nonprofits, 100% of everything they get goes directly back to the charity.  

Also, rather than a typical food pantry that gives canned goods and nonperishables, Paulson said her little “shop” stores perishable groceries one might need like milk, eggs, bread and juices.

And because of the COVID-19 crisis, she said she has been easier than ever. 

“We’ve been swamped because of the pandemic,” she said. “Whatever comes in goes back out.”

To meet that need, on Feb. 7, Give Kids Hope will be hosting a “Free Shopping Day and Pantry Day” to help people who might need a little extra help. 

Give Kids Hope’s hours. Photo by Julianne Mosher

So far, Paulson said, there are 700 families registered to receive clothes, toys and food. Registration is ongoing, or people can drive up to the parking lot that day to quickly grab what they need. The event will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. 

“I’m in the community,” she said. “This is my home and it’s so important for me to help other people.”

The Feb. 7 event will be Paulson’s first “shopping day” since the pandemic. She plans on doing them at least once a month.

Give Kids Hope’s shop is located at 4390 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station and is open six days a week. 

“If there are families in need, they can reach out for us,” Paulson said. “We don’t judge and there are no questions asked.”