Helping Hands

Published 10:50 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

Volunteers from Perdue Farms in Lewiston (in green) assist the Albemarle Food Bank food distribution last week at Greater Wynns Grove Baptist Church in Colerain. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Volunteers from Perdue Farms in Lewiston (in green) assist the Albemarle Food Bank food distribution last week at Greater Wynns Grove Baptist Church in Colerain. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

COLERAIN – Neighbors.

For their monthly distribution and the re-launch of the Bertie Mobile Food Pantry, some special volunteers were on hand here at the Mobile Pantry’s location of Greater Wynn’s Grove Baptist Church (GWGBC). They were Bertie people helping other Bertie people.

Special volunteers for the month of June were Perdue Farms of Lewiston-Woodville along with the Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center.

Volunteers, which also included Bertie County District-III Commissioner Tammy Lee, GWGBC and Zion Hill Baptist Church members, all braved late afternoon temperatures in the high 90’s for the food distribution which lasted about two hours. Sometimes volunteers come from Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

The food is distributed to those in need with eligibility generally based on income. While June’s turnout was hardly typical for several reasons – not the least of which could have been the blazing heat – each visit by the mobile bank usually services 80-to-100 families at the Colerain location.

Distribution takes place on the third Thursday of each month. Those who qualify arrive around 3 p.m. and register with volunteers arriving a half-hour later. The apportioning begins at 4:30 and lasts two hours.

“We have to get all the stuff off the truck and bagged up before we can even get the (grocery) carts loaded,” said Venita Thompson of the Bertie County Senior Center. “Raw food (vegetables) like produce comes in bulk and that has to be bagged first, then we have canned food; and at one time they brought health and beauty aids.”

“It takes a whole community effort to make this possible, you can’t just have volunteers from one area,” said Laura Williams, Pantry Coordinator for the Food Bank of the Albemarle, headquartered in Elizabeth City.

While there are volunteers from GWGBC – usually numbering around 20 persons, the church’s only function in the monthly operation is as a distribution point.

“They needed space availability and a large parking lot,” adds Thompson.

Perdue Farms’ volunteers did more than roll their sleeves up when they arrived; they also made a cash donation and over the course of the next several months will donate 10,000 pounds of poultry in the county-wide effort to fight hunger.

“This is just fabulous,” said Perdue Operations Director Jeff Stalls. “Perdue wanted to get involved with the Food Bank. We met with them two months ago and they told us about the distribution that’s done here with Bishop (Thomas) Lee (GWGBC pastor) and the facility they have here so we decided to come volunteer and make a donation.”

“Sure, it’s hot,” Stalls continued. “But the heat is also overtaken by the privilege of giving back to the community.”

Bertie’s mobile facility, which comes to the county also from Elizabeth City, is the only distribution unit in the county on wheels, part of 19 such mobiles serving the Food Bank’s 15-county distribution area. Aligning with over 130 non-profit member agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, day care centers, and senior citizen programs, the food is distributed from several locations. From there the food has been either picked up from the warehouse in Elizabeth City or is delivered to the locations for distribution.

“Thanks to Perdue’s donation we’re giving out an average of three pounds of poultry per family, and that’s one of the incentives that makes people to show up,” said Jessica Lechner, of the Food Bank. “We have everything from government commodities to donations from local stores and private citizens; so that’s a huge community effort at work.”

Commissioner Lee helped bring the mobile pantry to eastern Bertie in November 2015. GWGBC’s ample parking area and spacious indoor Retha White Fellowship Hall made for an ideal location.

“The accessibility makes it convenient for distribution,” said GWGBC Associate Minister Brenda Chamblee. “People don’t even have to get out of their vehicles in the weather. We’re community-based here: Powellsville, Colerain, Perrytown, White’s Cross, and surrounding areas. They can come here and get what they need instead of going to Windsor.”

“Perdue’s community service with the Food Bank is a great partnership,” Lee said. “I don’t know why they chose us, or chose today, but they’re here and we are loving it.”

Lee said while the mobile pantry is great for the region, she’s hoping the Food Bank will consider Wynn’s Grove for a stationary site. When the agreement was made in November, it was as a mobile distribution site for one year. While a permanent site is a possibility, there’s also a chance the mobile agreement could be extended.

“We just need somebody to step up, take charge and be responsible for running the (stationary) Food Pantry; and if there is anyone out there that might be interested, they need to get in touch with me,” Lee said.

“Ideally, we’re going to be transitioning to a permanent facility,” Williams stated. “We hope to receive funding until a permanent location can be established. Pantries that serve communities are staffed by volunteers and receive funding from individual donors, corporate donors, and the like.”

While Perdue brought about a dozen volunteers, Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center was represented by four persons.

“We actually came out and helped get this established,” noted Holly Smith, RCCHC’s Director of Patient Financial Services, Outreach and Enrollment. “Four of our employees come out once a month and volunteer their time with everything from unpacking the truck to loading the cars. We do it because it matters to us that our community gets serious about nutrition as part of health care; taking care of the whole person as well as the community is what we’re about.”