News that 400 of Charlotte’s homeless women and children are facing eight days without hot meals has inspired a growing movement to offer help.
The Salvation Army says the predicament is unavoidable, due to a long overdue renovation of the kitchen at the Center of Hope shelter for women and children. The work, paid for by donations, begins March 13 and will leave the shelter without an operable stove, oven or refrigerator for eight days.
Shelter Director Deronda Metz says the nonprofit agency can’t afford to have meals catered, which meant the staff faced the possibility of serving only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for eight days.
That would have added up to about 8,000 sandwiches.
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But word of the challenge has spread quickly in the past month, leading to a growing number of community groups and businesses offering to cover one or two meals each.
Metz says nine groups have stepped up so far, and pledged to cover 11 meals. That leaves 13 meals to go, which the shelter is hoping will be covered by other donors, either with prepared food or cash to buy food.
“We needed help and I’m starting to feel relieved the community will be there for us,” Metz said of the growing support. “This kitchen has needed to be updated for years, so we had no choice. It wasn’t built to serve this many people every day.”
Restaurants, churches, businesses and a food truck are among those that are offering help, she said.
“What this says to me is that people in our community really do care for the least in Charlotte, which makes us a great community,” Metz said.
The $150,000 renovation comes at a time when the shelter is inundated with homeless families, hosting about 400 people a night (half of them children). That’s about 60 over its capacity. Those people without beds sleep on the floor in the dining room.
Like the rest of the building, the kitchen dates back to 1991. Money for expanding the kitchen’s capabilities has not been allocated because “it couldn’t be justified,” says Metz.
“In the shelter business, you are so busy thinking of beds, so you don’t worry about the equipment as long as it’s safe and still working,” she said. “Our main focus is finding people a place to sleep and getting them back into housing as quickly as possible.”
The work is finally being done, she says, because a volunteer group called Karios took responsibility for raising the money. That group, made up of 13 women, has been showing up once a month for 13 years to provide a dinner for families in the shelter. The women plan the menu, buy the food, then cook it.
Sheila Tuttle, who has been a member from the beginning, says frustration with the broken down industrial equipment prompted them to raise the money. The microwave hasn’t worked in years, there’s a lack of oven space, stoves quit on occasion and floor tiles are broken. Even finding something as simple as a good set of knives is a challenge, she said.
The women, most of the whom met attending programs at Cavalry Church, began collecting money in the fall. It started as a birthday tribute to Tuttle, a Charlotte business owner who has been recognized by the Salvation Army as one of its most outstanding volunteers.
Their tribute has so far collected $90,000 toward the $150,000 goal, most of it from individuals who knew Tuttle or knew of her through friends. Neighbors of friends have pitched in, too, she says.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” said Tuttle, a mother of three and grandmother of nine. “Never in million years did I imagine we would raise this much. You’d think (renovation costs) is something people in the highrises of uptown would write a check for...But the people who have given this are not what you’d call ‘money people.’ The people sacrificed something in order to give money.”
A ribbon cutting will be held when the kitchen is done, she says, honoring many of the people who gave money. But Tuttle is just as excited to see the reaction homeless women and children will have when they see the renovation.
“I hope their reaction will be to realize that someone cared about them,” says Tuttle. “I hope it gives them a boost of hope.”
How to help
There are several ways to help the shelter in its kitchen renovation effort. Restaurants or other agencies can donate prepared meals, which will be served by the shelter’s staff in the site’s dining hall. Donors who wish to help cover the cost of the renovation are also still being sought. For details on getting involved, call Marty Sanders at 704-714-4724.