MATTHEWS – Whenever there’s a need, Matthews residents tend to step up. That’s why former mayor Jim Taylor is calling on the community to come together again, this time to support the Matthew HELP Center.
“The town has a heart of its own and I’m a firm believer that there’s a lot of people out there wanting and willing to help, but sometimes they don’t know the best way to do that,” Taylor said. “When the ask is made of our community, they respond very well.”
The ask is to raise $100,000 for the Matthew HELP Center through a GoFundMe campaign called “Matthews HELPing Matthews.”
Taylor said the idea to begin this effort came from Mumukshu Brahmbhatt, more commonly known around town as “MB.” Brahmbhatt is the owner of the UPS store in the Sycamore Commons Shopping Center in Matthews. He reached out to Taylor after becoming aware of some of the hardships of his customers, many of which are residents of Matthews and the surrounding communities.
“This is a time of isolation,” Brahmbhatt said. “This does not mean we should be isolated in reaching out to people who need help.”
Brahmbhatt helped organize a steering committee that includes Taylor and Mayor John Higdon; former Matthews mayor Paul Bailey; former Matthews councilwoman Barbara Dement; Town Manager Hazen Blodgett; Barry Steiger, marketing manager for Mario’s Italian Restaurant; Realtor Nobie Thrasher; Steve Huff, a video producer and commercial photographer; and Dr. Vasant Patel, of Carolina Cardiologist Associates in Rock Hill.
Together, they decided to focus their efforts on raising money for the HELP Center, which has been in Matthews for over 40 years. Taylor said the nonprofit already has an infrastructure in place, as well as a strong group of volunteers and a proven client screening process.
“This is not a campaign to save the HELP Center,” Taylor explained. “This is a campaign to help the HELP Center reach out to their existing client base of people in need, as well as the additional people in our community who have fallen on hard times.”
The Matthews HELP Center, located at 119 N. Ames St., 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 since mid-March to comply with the stay-at-home order.
Sandra Conway, executive director of Matthews HELP Center, said in an April 6 interview with the Weekly that sales from Backporch Treasures make up 65% of the organization’s budget. Without that revenue coming in, Conway has had to narrow the focus to just feeding the community, and a lot more people are asking for food.
While the nonprofit is well-positioned to provide for the “normal” level of need throughout the year, volunteers have been giving groceries to hundreds of people over the past several weeks. That’s more than the HELP Center is used to, even with a well-stocked pantry. Back in April, Conway estimated 30% to 40% of the people served were first-timers.
Conway expects the need to continue to grow in the coming months, which is why contributions from the community are so important. All of the money raised from the Matthews HELPing Matthews campaign will go directly to meeting this need, whether that’s feeding families, paying utility bills or offsetting housing costs.
“We are sincerely grateful for the generosity and efforts of the Matthews HELPing Matthews group and appreciate the work they are doing to help ensure the needs of our community are met,” Conway said in a press release. “This additional help will propel us forward into the next year of giving.”
As of May 4, the GoFundMe has raised approximately $7,800. That number, however, only reflects individual donations made on the website. The campaign also has received larger contributions from corporate donors and other businesses.
Brahmbhatt said while there is a goal of $100,000, the larger goal of the Matthews HELPing Matthews campaign is unity. He said that’s evident from just looking at the roster of people on the group’s steering committee: three past and present mayors of Matthews working alongside business leaders and former commissioners.
“We could have different opinions, but we don’t have a difference of heart,” Brahmbhatt said.
He also hopes the GoFundMe encourages harmony in the community and shows residents if they each come together in a small way, big goals can be achieved. People have a lot of power to support their neighbors, Brahmbhatt said.
“I am more than thrilled from the support the community has brought us so far,” he said. “It’s amazing how once you start something, people come together.”
As for Taylor, the effort behind Matthews HELPing Matthews isn’t political. Taylor said he’s lived in Matthews for 30 years and cares deeply about the town. He always will.
“Just because I retired from being mayor doesn’t mean I stopped caring bout this community,” Taylor said. “If there’s something I can do to make this town the best town in North Carolina, I’m going to do that.”
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