What’s for lunch? It’s an innocuous question, but for some local families the answer is nothing.
Hunger happens in our community, and the needs only increase as schools close for the summer, eliminating at-school breakfast and lunch provisions for the families who rely on them.
“There’s no face of hunger,” said Lori Towner, development director for nonprofit Western Wake Crisis Ministry, which has been serving our community since its founding by six local churches in 1983. “Our typical client could be your neighbor, your bus driver, someone who has lost his job, or been diagnosed with a serious medical issue and can’t work,” she said. “Based on our numbers, there’s a need.”
WWCM executive director Denise Visbal says people come for food or financial assistance, sometimes both. Many clients have never needed help before, and are seeking to regain their self-sufficiency.
“Anyone can find themselves in a crisis situation,” she said. “We see people of all levels of education, ethnicity, religion, and work background.”
New and improved
Along with financial and budgeting assistance, WWCM offers employment counseling and referrals to local resources. Its client count has grown from seven to nearly 250 each month, hailing from Apex, Friendship and New Hill.
Holly Springs residents can also receive financial aid through WWCM, but for food needs are directed to the Holly Springs Food Cupboard.
To keep up with the demand for services, WWCM cut the ribbon on a cheery new 3,600-square-foot facility in October that tripled its space compared to its former site in downtown Apex, and expanded offerings to clients.
The move came with the support of Joe Iannone of JVI Construction, WWCM’s business neighbor and a “generous” landlord at the 540 Flex business park, Towner says, and that of the community.
Here the grocery aisles are numbered, shelves are labeled, and produce is in orderly bins. A wall of commercial grade freezers and refrigerator space houses milk, eggs, meats and more.
“Now if (donors) Earth Fare or Food Lion call with 1,500 pounds of turkeys, we have a place,” Towner said. “Just having the capacity to accept more food has increased our effectiveness tremendously.”
Other WWCM partners include Panera Bread, a new Publix store nearby, and Simple Gifts Community Garden, which donates fresh produce.
As a “food choice pantry,” WWCM clients can shop with a volunteer assistant for what they need, rather than being handed a pre-packed bag of groceries. That builds relationships, and helps reduce food waste.
Food pantry manager Tammi Greco, one of three part-time staffers at WWCM, last year kept the pantry’s waste rate under 2 percent. The national average is 12 percent.
“A good pantry is organized, has good volunteers and good stock,” she said. “The quality (of food donations) has gotten better as donors are more conscientious, and if we send out a need for something, it will show up.”
WWCM changed its hours of operation as of May 1 based on non-negotiable donor truck delivery times, to keep clients from having to wait for service. The new hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Also beginning this month, evening hours are being added on second and fourth Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., in an effort to serve the working poor, who can’t come during the day.
Clients can shop the pantry once every 30 days, or stop by anytime for day-old breads.
You can help
Above all, WWCM is a place of community thanks to church, civic and private donors and to approximately 100 active volunteers, ages 35-ish to 90, who show up day after day.
Greco says some clients seek out specific volunteers with whom they’ve developed a relationship. In turn, the volunteers share their own favorite recipes based around the pantry’s available offerings, in what Towner calls “teachable moments.”
“You can’t serve as many clients as we do with just three part-time employees,” Towner said. “Our longevity is due first and foremost to that community support.”
Getting involved with WWCM is as simple as organizing a food drive among your neighbors, colleagues, scout troop or swim team. Check the WWCM site to see what the pantry needs most.
Alternately, donate money or gift cards for local supermarkets; Greco will put them to good use to keep the pantry supplied.
You can also volunteer at WWCM as a pantry assistant, in the office, with a fundraiser, or as a driver to pick up donations. On weekends, sign up to bring a group and sort food, or help maintain the facility.
“All of our services benefit people who live in Western Wake,” Towner said. “When you give food, money or time, you know it serves residents in your community.”