HICKORY — The Harm Reduction Coalition has awarded more than $5.3 million in grant funding to 44 projects from 32 organizations with support from Gilead Sciences under the HepConnect Initiative.
HepConnect is a regional initiative to mobilize and expand capacity for organizations working with people who use drugs in five states significantly impacted by rising hepatitis C (HCV) rates: Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
With more than 120 applications reviewed, the 44 projects awarded the 18-month funding allocation were selected by a committee of regional and national harm reduction experts, including people with lived experience. Awards focused on projects that would have the most impact with people who inject drugs and selected grantees were required to articulate both the need and how they would include impacted communities in their projects.
The Olive Branch Ministry, a faith-based harm reduction agency based in Hickory, was awarded $150,000 as part of the HepConnect Grant process. For nearly 10 years, Olive Branch has provided harm reduction services in Catawba and six surrounding counties. These services include peer support, syringe exchange, overdose prevention, HIV/HepC outreach, and jail-based education.
The grant award will provide program funding to open a holistic harm reduction center in Hickory, in partnership with Northminster Presbyterian Church in Viewmont. The church is committed to social justice outreach and has expressed a desire to address the opioid crisis in Hickory.
The Rev. Jill Isola, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church, said: “At Northminster, we believe in radical hospitality as a theological value and embrace this partnership with great joy. We hope to follow Jesus’ example of care, acceptance, welcome and love to all God’s children. Northminster Presbyterian Church is thrilled to partner with The Olive Branch Ministry in their harm reduction work in our community. The opioid crisis has made an impact on Catawba County and The Olive Branch Ministry is doing incredible work to meet the needs of those impacted by that crisis.”
Harm Reduction is an evidenced-based program model that is critical to fighting the spread of HIV and HepC. The Olive Branch Ministry is connected at both the state and national levels with the Harm Reduction Coalition doing this work.
“Communities in regions like Appalachia, the Midwest and the South are experiencing unprecedented outbreaks of HIV, hepatitis C, and overdoses from opioids,” said Monique Tula, executive director at Harm Reduction Coalition.
“Without financial resources and legislative backing from state and federal governments, many of the hardest-hit communities in these regions are unable to adapt comprehensive programs in a harm reduction framework. This is why the HepConnect program and the investment from Gilead Sciences is so critical right now. HepConnect offers not only a commitment, but a deep investment in strengthening the harm reduction infrastructure in these regions.”
Michelle Mathis, the executive director and co-founder of The Olive Branch Ministry, sums up the vision behind the new project this way: “We are honored to be a HepConnect grantee. We know that people who have no hope seek no treatment. The connection has to be personal. For Olive Branch, it’s about helping people find hope, so healing can begin.”
The Olive Branch Ministry is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves marginalized people through faith-based harm reduction. For more information, visit www.olivebranchministry.org