Concord's housing department and a local church recently partnered to offer an outreach program to Cabarrus County residents.
The Making a Difference Outreach program was launched in January by New Life Independent Baptist Church of Concord to provide food, clothing and more to locals in need.
The outreach program, headquartered at the Logan Community Center at 304 Lincoln Street in Concord, began after church leaders and city officials identified a common need for assistance among residents in the area.
City housing offices moved from the Logan Community Center late last year to the new Neighborhood Network Technology Center, on Salem Street in Concord, opening up space for the church volunteers to step in and set up a food pantry and racks of clothing in the center to distribute to those in need.
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Angela Jones-Graham, director of Concord's housing department, said her office frequently receives questions from the city's Section 8 and public housing residents about local resources that can provide help with food and clothing. She said she hopes the partnership will benefit those residents.
"It takes a whole community," Jones-Graham said. "It's wonderful that people like this want to partner with us. It's helping us make a positive impact."
Although the center is surrounded by public housing units, the program's services are not limited to those living in public housing. Anyone in Cabarrus County is eligible for assistance, said Anthony Smith, executive director of Making a Difference Outreach.
From 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, people can pick up groceries and clothes at the center. Visitors can take what clothes they need, and food is distributed based on the size of the family requesting help. On Thursdays, an instructor leads fitness classes for women.
Volunteers even provide child care for mothers who come for the workout.
"We try to think about everything to rule out every excuse for not coming," Smith said.
Smith said the program is meant to help people on a once-a-month basis. But if someone really needs the help, they won't be turned away, he said.
Volunteers have served about 300 people since January.
Program leaders are looking to expand their services to include a mentoring program and parenting classes.
Tommy Steele, pastor of New Life Independent Baptist Church, said he hopes to also add a computer lab to the center and develop a program for people who are re-entering the community after being incarcerated. He wants church members and volunteers to reach out in the community to help break the cycle of poverty, he said.
"Sometimes you just need someone to point you the way out," Steele said.
Terrie Best, who volunteers as administrative assistant of the new program, said many of the people coming in to the center have been laid off from their jobs and need some extra help.
"Sometimes unemployment just isn't enough," Best said.
Best can relate to many of the people she's served. She was recently laid off from her job and a fire that damaged her home last year left her living in a hotel for weeks.
"I know exactly how they feel," she said.
When the church started the outreach program, she jumped at the chance to volunteer.
"I think this is the direction I'm supposed to go," she said.
New Life Independent Baptist Church has been doing ministry in the Logan neighborhood, Concord's historically black community, for nearly 30 years.
For now, Making a Difference Outreach is operating as a ministry of the church, but volunteers are working to get a nonprofit tax exempt status for the program.
Some days, the center has a steady stream of people seeking assistance, and other days, no one comes in, Smith said. Volunteers are trying to get the word out about the ministry.
Smith said he thinks some people are afraid that if they come to ask for help, church members will preach at them.
"We love the Lord, but that's not why we're here," Steele said. "We're just trying to be a hand to a hurting people."