Peggy Shuford and Elaine Young are Hickory residents and community volunteers battling local hunger with a passion and a plea. They’ve rallied troops, engaged allies, set up headquarters, gathered supplies and performed drills. Now they’re spreading the word that operation PORCH is in Hickory, and they want everyone to participate.
The original PORCH – People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homes – is an all-volunteer community hunger-relief organization founded in 2010 by three Chapel Hill women. Once a month, volunteers pick up canned goods residents leave on their porches, then volunteers distribute the food to needy families in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. PORCH was so immediately successful that it caught the attention of Redbook magazine, where the effort was described in its November 2010 issue.
Shuford heard about PORCH while talking with Eastern North Carolina friends about hunger in the state. A few weeks prior, Shuford had chatted with a Viewmont Elementary School teaching assistant and was shaken to hear that children were coming to school having eaten nothing “since the day before, when they got breakfast and lunch at Viewmont,” Shuford said.
Shuford contacted a Viewmont teacher who shared that students frequently complained of “tummy aches” – child code for hunger pains. Shuford heard about teachers buying food to share with students in their classrooms.
Deeply distressed and determined to devise a solution, Shuford, mother of three and grandmother of nine, described the situation to her husband of 50 years, Pope Shuford, former CEO and current chairman of the board of Shuford Mills and Shurtape. The couple then talked to friends Elaine and Charles Young. Charles is a recent retiree from his practice at the law firm of Young, Morphis, Bach & Taylor in Hickory. Like his wife, he is a long-time community volunteer.
“The thought of one of my grandchildren being hungry – any child being hungry – pulled at my heartstrings,” said Elaine Young, who has three children and eight grandchildren. Straightaway, she began gathering information, speaking to Hickory Public Schools counselors and principals.
Pope Shuford and neighbor Paul Kercher, a retired minister, “visited every site in our community that deals with hunger situations,” Peggy Shuford said about the men’s fact-finding tour of places such as the Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank.
“We discovered through all this that hunger is huge, from children up to seniors,” said Shuford, who repeatedly attributed the problem to the globalization of the economy and the loss of Catawba County’s manufacturing base, which resulted in widespread unemployment. Among other things, the couples learned that many families run out of food and food stamps by the third week of each month. Some sell their food stamps to pay rent or buy gas to get to work – if they have vehicles. “There are 6,000 (local) adults who do not have transportation to get to work,” Young pointed out.
According to statistics gathered by Shuford and Young, 28,970 folks in Catawba County need food assistance each month.
Seriously painful to consider was the news that undocumented residents of Catawba County often are afraid to seek assistance, meaning that food insecurity is an even bigger problem for them and their children.
With facts in hand and after a period of intense brainstorming, Shuford and Young were left with a will but not a way. Then Shuford learned about PORCH and shared the concept with Young. The two tweaked it to fit Hickory – People Offering Relief from Community Hunger – and solicited help, and pretty soon they had 36 neighborhoods ready with coordinators and households willing to put one can of food on the porch.
The November and December food collections served as drills, with the food going to Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry. Now, Hickory’s PORCH is ready to be its own organization. It has nonprofit status; a director, Shauna O’Brien; a food collection building that was donated to the cause; and it has recipients: children. Working with school guidance counselors, the organization finds families who need and want food help. They regularly meet with PORCH volunteers at designated areas and times to receive bags of food.
In addition to asking community members to leave canned food on their porches, Shuford and Young are requesting monetary donations so the organization can buy and supply cereal, eggs and milk along with the canned goods.
Tax deductible donations can be mailed to PORCH, c/o Pope Shuford, 715 Eighth Ave. NW, Hickory, NC 28601.
“Our ultimate goal is for everyone in every neighborhood to put one can of food on their porch once a month,” said Young, who, with Shuford, would like to see PORCH adopted and adapted by neighboring towns.
“We need to be who we should be to our neighbors,” concluded Shuford.
Mary Canrobert is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Mary? Email her at email@example.com.
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