The stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 has forced many businesses across the region to temporarily close their doors and lay off employees. As a result, more people are turning to the pantries of nonprofit organizations for food and supplies than ever before.
Matthews HELP Center, Common Heart in Indian Trail, Pineville Neighbors Place and Servant’s Heart of Mint Hill have all reported seeing an unprecedented number of visitors to their food pantries over the last month, many of which are using the service for the first time.
“We’ve seen as many people today as we would have seen all week,” said Sandra Conway, executive director of Matthews HELP Center.
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On April 6, volunteers gave groceries to 100 people. Conway estimated 30 to 40% of those people were first-timers.
The Matthews HELP Center, located at 119 N. Ames St., Matthews, helps to ease poverty in zip codes 28104, 28105, 28226, 28270 and 28079. In addition to its food pantry, the nonprofit also offers crisis assistance and runs back to school, backpack, Thanksgiving feast and holiday support programs.
Part of what makes it possible to help so many in need is Matthews HELP Center’s Backporch Treasures boutique and thrift shop. The store, however, has been closed for the last month to comply with Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order. Conway said sales make up 65% of the organization’s budget.
“The fact that it’s closed has really financially made us reevaluate our entire budget for March, April and even May,” Conway said.
Without revenue coming in, Conway said she’s had to narrow the focus to just feeding the community.
The food pantry is open for curbside pickup from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Thursday. Anyone who needs food must call 704-847-8383 for an appointment. Food donations can be dropped off during those same hours and financial contributions can be made online at www.matthewshelpcenter.org or mailed to PO Box 91, Matthews, N.C., 28106.
Conway said she’s seen an outpouring of support from the community over the last month, especially when the pantry is running low on supplies. On April 3, she posted a video on Matthews HELP Center’s Facebook page thanking people for mailing in monetary donations.
“Thank you to our community just for caring and showing compassion during this time that we’ve never experienced together, and we are doing it together,” Conway said in the video. “We are trying to help one person at a time and we are doing it at the hands of our community.”
Many of Common Heart’s regular volunteers are unable to serve right now because of their “at-risk” designation as senior citizens. Luckily, the Indian Trail nonprofit has been overwhelmed with the number of people willing to step in.
According to Kara Lopp, Common Heart’s community relations and fundraising manager, there’s a waiting list of almost 50 contacts on an “emergency” list eager to volunteer during the crisis.
“It’s been really encouraging to see so many people in the community step up,” Lopp said.
Common Heart operates a delivery food pantry called Common Cupboard, two traditional pantries and mobile on-the-go pantries. Last year, eight pantry locations provided over 510,000 meals to an average of 750 families each month. The nonprofit is also known for The Great Turkey Countdown and the Hunger Walk, which raises money and brings awareness to hunger in Union County.
Lopp said all Common Heart pantries are seeing an increase in the number of families served, over 20% more than last year. Nearly 50% of the new families are accessing food assistance for the first time after losing jobs or having hours cut due to the coronavirus. Lopp anticipates this number will grow as time goes on.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re going to start to see an even bigger and bigger demand in folks that need help with groceries,” she said.
While the organization focuses on food, other Common Heart programs and services – including Common Things Boutique & Thrift Shop, adult literacy, economic empowerment programs and the free tax service – are closed. This could hurt the nonprofit down the road, as proceeds from the thrift shop make up about 20% of its annual budget.
That’s why Lopp said donations are important. Common Heart is trying to keep weekly food pantries and upcoming mobile pantries open, albeit with new safety precautions in place.
All staff and drive-thru food pantry volunteers are pre-screened with health and travel questions, and must have their temperature taken onsite before they can begin working. They are required to wash their hands and wear gloves when handling food, including canned goods. Lopp said one item they don’t have, but desperately need, are face masks.
Lopp said shelves are running low on most nonperishables including canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, canned meat, pasta, rice, cereal, oatmeal, chicken noodle soup and healthy snacks for kids.
“We seem to be going through stuff a lot faster now,” Lopp said.
Anyone willing to donate these items can drop them off at Common Heart’s office, located at 116 Business Park Drive, suite A, in Indian Trail, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, or 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
Residents can also give money online at www.CommonHeart.org. Common Heart is a partner agency with Second Harvest Food Bank and uses funds to shop there for discount groceries. Every $25 donation feeds a family of four for one week.
“If people give money, we can really make their donation go a lot further,” Lopp said.
Pineville Neighbors Place
Pineville Neighbors Place is the only nonprofit organization in Pineville assisting with crisis financial, furniture and food needs. Executive Director Jane Shutt said she’s feeling the added pressure from more people in need due to the coronavirus.
Over the past month, she said there has been an influx of new people calling for help that have never been clients of Pineville Neighbor’s Place before and she’s doing her best to help them all.
“We’re taking everybody. We do get calls from people in east Charlotte and I can’t do that. I can’t feed all of Charlotte,” Shutt said. “But for our community of Pineville and Sterling, I’m not turning anyone away.”
The food pantry at Pineville Neighbors Place is well-stocked thanks to food drives from the Town of Pineville and Pineville Elementary at the end of 2019, but donations are always welcome.
“We had a stockpile going into this year that we would have never foreseen that we needed,” she said.
The pantry is closed to walk-ins, but volunteers are pre-packing boxes for curbside or delivery. They are also picking up free breakfasts and lunches offered by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at Pineville and Sterling elementary schools and delivering them to children without transportation.
During the week of March 30 to April 3, Pineville Neighbors Place delivered over 400 meals from school feeding sites to children in surrounding neighborhoods.
“It just keeps on growing every day,” Shutt said. “We need more volunteers to help with the deliveries.”
Pineville Neighbors Place also needs monetary donations to help clients dealing with unplanned loss of income pay rent and utilities. Those interested can donate at www.pinevilleneighbors.org.
Shutt said she usually works with Crisis Assistance Ministry to provide financial help, but the organization is closed, so she’s working with Good Friends and Good Fellows. Even though utility companies have pledged not to disconnect, and eviction hearings are not occurring, she said it is still imperative that clients stay current on their bills.
“My nightmare is that in June or July, whenever we come out the other side of this, that people are going to be in huge holes,” Shutt said.
Kim Rhodarmer, founder and executive director of Servant’s Heart of Mint Hill, is worried the worst is yet to come. Her organization, which serves residents of Mint Hill and families of students who attend Mint Hill schools, is already helping more than twice as many clients as usual. Still, she expects that number to grow as people run out of food and supplies and more employees lose their jobs.
“Even though we’ve seen a surge, I feel like our greater surge is in the months to come,” Rhodarmer said. “I think in April and May we are going to see more people needing services than ever before.”
Servant’s Heart’s food pantry is normally filled with non-perishable foods intended to bridge clients and their families from no food to a Loaves and Fishes pantry visit the following Thursday. However, since Loaves and Fishes in Charlotte is temporarily closed, Servant’s Heart has been dispersing its food.
From March 1 to April 2, Servant’s Heart served 339 people curbside with $11,365 worth of pre-packed boxes of food. Rhodarmer said 75 people have also picked up $3,518 worth of non-food items like toilet paper, detergent, soap, personal care and household products. That’s approximately 415 total people with almost $15,000 worth of food and non-food items.
Rhodarmer said that’s an increase of 142% for the food pantry and an increase of almost 25% for the non-food pantry compared to a normal month. She estimated 25% of the clients using the pantries are first-timers.
Curbside pickup is from 1 to 3 p.m. on Thursdays at 9229 Lawyers Road, Mint Hill. Anyone who needs help should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-680-6533, Ext. 4.
In addition to food and non-food pantries, Servant’s Heart also has a community boutique that is self-funding and supports the organization’s ability to help families struggling financially. Sales contribute to 51% of the budget, but the store has been closed since Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order began.
“While it hurts and we didn’t anticipate this, our organization is financially responsible,” Rhodarmer said. “Servant’s Heart won’t close because of this and everyone will continue to get paid at their full pay.”
Financial donations to help Servant’s Heart supplement the loss in revenue can be made online at www.servantsheart.org. The organization also needs canned meats like chicken, ham and beef, as well as soups, juice, breakfast items, Jiffy mix, boxed mashed potatoes and bags of rice and beans. Food donations can be dropped off during curbside pickup times.
“Servant’s Heart exists to serve. It’s who we are. It’s what we get to do every week,” Rhodarmer said. “The people we serve encountered circumstances they did not expect; much like all of us with COVID-19. However, some are more prepared for unanticipated events than others. This is when Servant’s Heart has an opportunity to give unprecedented amounts of food, household items and hope.”
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