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Local Demand For Food Assistance Grows Despite Economic Recovery

Newly released census data shows Orange County’s poverty rate may be improving, but the economic recovery has yet to take hold in many communities.

At 10 a.m. on a Friday at the Inter-Faith Council in Carrboro, about half a dozen people wait quietly for their names to be called. Each is a client at the IFC’s Food Pantry. They are eligible to collect one bag of groceries a month. Though not everyone comes that often, many do come regularly.

This is one way Orange County’s working poor make ends meet.

Kristen Lavernge is the IFC’s Community Services Director. She says many clients work at the university, the hospitals or in the school system, but they struggle to pay their rent.

“The guideline generally is that you shouldn’t be paying more than a third of your income in rent, and we find that a lot of our clients are paying at least half and sometimes even more,” says Lavergne.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing food pantry clients, as many landlords have stopped accepting Section 8 housing vouchers and the demand for off-campus student housing has driven up the cost of renting in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“I think having the university here is a blessing in some ways, but it also brings students to this area and the housing competition gets difficult there,” says Lavergne.

According to Orange County Health Department data, a local household would need the income from 2.2 full-time minimum wage jobs to be able to afford the median rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

For some, that doesn’t leave a lot left over to buy groceries.

The IFC distributes 1,200- 1,500 bags of food each month to families and individuals who live and work in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

During the recession, Lavernge says she saw that number spike, and while demand has since plateaued, the level of need still remains higher than when the recession began.

The numbers of people requiring food assistance may be beginning to stabilize in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but in rural Orange, the need continues to grow.

Kay Stagner is the Manager of Client Services with Orange Congregations in Mission. She says since 2010 she’s seen demand for groceries double at the Hillsborough-based Samaritan Relief Mission’s food pantry.

“So far this year we’ve averaged about 290 households a month, that averages to about 14 food orders a day,” says Stagner. “I was looking at our numbers from 2010, just four years ago, and we averaged seven food orders a day.”

OCIM serves residents living in the Orange County Schools district. Though housing costs are lower in the rural areas than in the towns, Stagner says many clients struggle to find work that pays a living wage.

“Nobody wants to come here. They just can’t find jobs,” says Stagner. “They can’t find work that will support themselves and their families.”

Transportation and childcare costs also take a sizable chunk out of workers paychecks. Stagner says even the weather can play an unexpected role in driving up the demand for food.

“An ice storm like we had last winter, people’s power goes out for three, four days, or a week- all of a sudden you have people you haven’t even seen before, that have never needed your help before needing help with food because they lost everything,” says Stagner.

According to the American Community Survey, the percent of people living in poverty in Orange County has dropped slightly, from 17.4 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2013. But that change seems imperceptible to those who work in the area’s food pantries.

Stagner says she fully expects demand to increase in the coming year.

“We never know how many people are going to be needing us. It depends on changes in society from gas prices to the weather. We know we will serve more people this year than last year, we always have. But just how much, there’s no way to tell.”

Both the IFC and OCIM accept non-perishable food donations year-round. For more on how to donate, contact the IFC here and OCIM here. 


Inter-Faith Council Completes Fundraising for Homeless Shelter

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, or IFC, has announced it has now raised the money necessary to completely fund a new homeless shelter for men at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill.


The Executive Director for the IFC, John Dorward, spoke about the nearly three decades it took to make this homeless shelter a reality. He says it all started when Chapel Hill donated the temporary quarters for housing homeless men, women, and children in the old municipal building. It all turned around in 2008 when UNC offered them property near Homestead and MLK Jr. Blvd. After getting permit process, they began their capital campaign in 2012 to raise the necessary $5.76 million.

“We finished that campaign in late June of this year,” says Dorward. “We got the last pieces to come together.”

He says that the final grant for the campaign came from a competitive grant.

“That would be the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta,” Dorward says. “We got a half million dollar grant from them, and that put us over the top.”

He says that one of the biggest struggles of establishing the shelter was finding a suitable location.

“We looked at lots and lots of pieces of property around the town during the time that we have been in the temporary quarters,” says Dorward. “Now the one piece of property we are going to be building on is one of the few places in town that is actually zoned properly for a homeless shelter. After that, the hardest part would be trying to raise all that money.”

The new shelter will replace the one found near West Rosemary and North Columbia streets and in the former Town Hall building.

Dorward says that the plan for the building will remain the same as they have established.

“It will be 52 men housed on a nightly basis that are part of the transitional program that we will be running,” he says. “We can house up to 17 [more] men on an emergency basis.”

For more information on the Inter-Faith Council, click here.


Honors, Tours, And Curiosities!

Congratulations to Desaray Rockett, Judith Blau, and Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe–winners of this year’s Pauli Murray Awards.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission gives out the Pauli Murray Awards each year to a youth, an adult, and a business in Orange County “who serve the community with distinction in the pursuit of equality, justice, and human rights for all residents.”

This year’s winners were honored at a ceremony on Sunday, February 23, at 3:00 in the Central Orange Senior Center. Also honored were Judah Kalb and Nathan Bell – both students at Smith Middle School, and both winners of the Orange County Human Relations Commission’s 2013 Student Essay Contest.

As part of a class on African American Studies, Kalb and Bell wrote about the lasting impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kalb won first place in the essay contest; Bell took second.


UNC has honored Roberto G. Quercia, chair of the City and Regional Planning department, with the university’s 2013 C. Felix Harvey Award.

Awarded by the Provost’s office, the honor recognizes “exemplary faculty scholarship that reflects one of UNC’s top priorities and addresses a real-world challenge.” It includes a $75,000 prize, which Quercia will use to develop the Bridges2Success Scholar Athlete Support Program, an academy that trains middle and high school coaches to promote academic success among male athletes of color.

To learn more about the program, visit Bridges2Success.org.


You’re invited to the annual meeting of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Wednesday, March 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Carolina Inn.

Speakers will include Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Al Bowers, the owner of Al’s Burger Shack.


Before there were art museums and science museums, there were “Cabinets of Curiosities”: densely packed rooms where scholars and nobles displayed rare and fascinating items from shells to gems to old relics and bizarre devices.

Now, UNC’s Wilson Library is celebrating those old exhibits with an exhibit of its own, “Rooms of Wonder,” on display through April 20. The exhibit features rare books and catalogs from the old rooms–as well as items from the UNC Rare Book Collection’s own “cabinet of curiosities,” including ancient Babylonian tablets, an Egyptian papyrus roll, and an “Incan record-keeping device consisting of intricately knotted threads.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public.


Wednesday, March 5, you’re invited to campus for a free screening of the documentary “Breaking Through,” chronicling the stories of LGBT elected officials across the country–including Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. Senator.

The film begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in UNC’s FedEx Global Education Center. Director/producer Cindy Abel and editor Michael Bruno will be on hand, and the film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring North Carolina’s LGBT elected officials–including Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Town Council member Lee Storrow, Alderman Damon Seils, and State Representative Marcus Brandon.

You can watch the trailer online at BreakingThroughMovie.com.


Chapel Hill Tire Car Care Center just completed a successful canned food drive, collecting nearly 1,000 cans of food for the IFC by offering customers a $10 discount on oil changes if they brought in four cans of food.

IFC officials say those cans will be used to help about 450 different families in the area.

To learn how you can donate, visit IFCWeb.org.


Chatham Habitat for Humanity is teaming up with the MassMutual Life Insurance Company to give away free $50,000 term life insurance policies to benefit children of working families in Pittsboro.

You are eligible to apply if you’re a permanent legal U.S. resident of good health between the ages of 19 and 42, with a total family income between $10,000 and $40,000, and a parent or legal guardian of a child under 18.

You can apply at a one-day public event on Saturday, March 8, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Chatham Habitat for Humanity office at 467 West Street in Pittsboro.


You’re invited to explore the history of Hillsborough on Saturday, March 8, with a one-hour guided walking tour hosted by the Alliance of Historic Hillsborough.

The tour begins at 11:00 a.m. at the Hillsborough Visitors Center and winds through the center of the Piedmont’s oldest town, visiting schoolhouses, old homes and cemeteries along the way.

Tickets are $5 per person; children under 12 are free.


IFC’s “RSVVP Day” A Success, Despite Weather

CHAPEL HILL – A blast of snow and ice last month threatened to put a damper on the Inter-Faith Council’s annual “RSVVP Day” fundraiser, but IFC executive director John Dorward says in spite of the weather, the event went off without a hitch.

“It actually went very well,” he says. “We thought (the snow) might hurt, but it did not…we’ve collected from over half the (participating) restaurants at this point, and the total (so far) was $12,500…

“Most of the restaurants have turned in more money this year than they did last year, and last year we had pretty decent weather.”

RSVVP Day” is one of the IFC’s biggest annual fundraisers, with more than 100 restaurants around the area donating ten percent of their daily proceeds to the IFC’s food programs. This year marked the 25th annual RSVVP Day; last year’s event raised more than $20,000.

The Inter-Faith Council is perhaps Chapel Hill’s best-known organization that serves those in need—and with holiday season in full swing, they’re stepping up their efforts to make sure no one in the area goes hungry. Dorward says they provided meals on Thanksgiving to more than 400 families, and they’re hoping to serve even more at Christmastime.

IFC officials are asking for donations to help the cause. Dorward says a little goes a long way.

“Twenty-five dollars gives you a meal–an entire meal, everything that they need–for a Christmas dinner” for a family, he says.

The IFC is also seeking donations of canned and nonperishable food for the IFC’s Food Pantry.

To find out how you can contribute, visit IFCWeb.org.


Concert Saturday To Benefit IFC Community House

CHAPEL HILL – The folk trio Brother Sun will perform on Saturday night at the Community Church of Chapel Hill, to raise money for the Inter-Faith Council’s Community House capital campaign.

“They do some beautiful music together,” says IFC executive director John Dorward.

Brother Sun is comprised of Joe Jencks, Pat Wictor and Greg Greenway; they’ve been nationally recognized as one of the best folk-Americana vocal groups in the country.

Proceeds from Saturday’s concert will help the IFC build its new Community House at 1315 MLK Boulevard. IFC officials are hoping to raise $5,760,000 for the project; Dorward says they’re close already.

“We’re making very good progress,” he says. “We started the capital campaign in earnest earlier this year, (and) we’re to about $4.4 million (raised)…we’ve got a ways yet to go, but we feel very confident that we’re going to get there.”

That $4.4 million has come from more than 300 individual donors.

When it’s completed, Dorward says the Community House shelter will have room to house 52 men, with an additional 17 beds available for emergencies—as well as a wellness clinic and job counseling, among other services.

“The new Community House will give us a permanent location for the first time,” he says. “We’ve been in temporary quarters in the old Municipal Building for 28 years now…

“We’ll have 52 beds for men on a transitional basis where they can work through the program–and at the end of the day they’re back on their feet and they’re back out in the community, paying taxes and working just like the rest of us.”

Construction on the Community House is slated to begin next spring, with a projected opening in 2015.

The Brother Sun concert gets underway at 8:00 Saturday night at the Community Church of Chapel Hill on 106 Purefoy Road. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 the day of the show; you can purchase them online at IFCWeb.org.

You can listen to Brother Sun by visiting BrotherSunMusic.com.


IFC To Offer Homeless, Needy Thanksgiving Meal

CHAPEL HILL – This is the traditional week of getting together with your family members and giving thanks for the things you have in your life, such as your health, your home and your job to name a few.  But for some folks, they do not  have enough income to be able to provide themselves with a Thanksgiving meal.

John Dorward is executive director at Inter Faith Council for Social Service.  He tells WCHL that I-F-C will be providing food for a large number of families for Thanksgiving.

“The 400 meals for the families, we actually supply them with the turkey and all the sides that go along with them so that they can go home and cook themselves,” Dorward says.

He says they do it because so many families can’t afford it.

“Turkeys then at Christmas the hams and things like that can get a little pricy,” Dorward says.  “Some people are not really prepared to be able to do that.  So this way, they can provide their family with the same type of meal like the rest of us are doing.”

The pick-up for these food items begins today and runs through Wednesday.  Families, who qualified for the Thanksgiving food, have already signed-up and been approved.

Dorward also tells us that there will be a traditional meal on Thanksgiving Day for the homeless in Chapel Hill and surrounding area.

“Will be at the Community Kitchen, which is in the old Municipal Building at the corner of Columbia and Rosemary Streets,” Dorward says. “I believe it happens somewhere right around noon.”


Dropping Temperatures Force The Homeless Inside

CHAPEL HILL – Most residents of Chapel Hill and Orange County probably do not think much about the homeless problem because this is not a big city like New York, Atlanta or even Charlotte.  But there are still homeless people around the area, even though it is rural.

John Dorward is executive director of the Inter Faith Council for Social Service in Carrboro.  He tells WCHL News there are between 200 and 300 homeless people living in Orange County.  He says when the weather gets colder, that means their Men’s Shelter and the Women and Childrens’  Shelter serve more people.

“We have some extra people, who normally might live out in a camp or something like that,” Dorward says.  “That would come in…and we especially want them to come in on nights when it’s gonna be down in the 20s and it was wet and those sorts of things.  So, we are going to see more people for that.”

He says the need is about evenly split between male and females.

“We normally see about 50 men a night, that is what we are doing on a regular basis,” Dorward says.  “And the same with the women’s and children’s shelter…somewhere around 50 people a night.”

Dorward tells us that the I-F-C is getting help from another agency in providing warmth to those in need.

“I know that Blanket Orange County, which is a group that collects blankets for us, has already started their process this year,” Dorward says.  “And we’ll start to see blankets coming in because we will be handing blankets out on a regular basis for the next several months.”

But Dorward adds that the I-F-C has not forgotten about those folks, who have homes, but are having a hard time providing enough heat.

“We’re also buying little space heaters for people, who maybe don’t have enough heat in their house or don’t have the proper insulation,” Dorward says.  “So when it gets really down below freezing that they just are not capable of warming the entire house.”

And for those people, who heat their homes with wood, Dorward says they are providing that type fuel, as well, to those in need.

“We participate with a couple of different groups that do firewood,” Dorward says.  “They go out and cut-up trees that people have donated so that there is firewood is available for those people, who still heat with wood either in a fireplace or wood stove.”


A Golden Celebration, 50 years of the IFC

The Inter-Faith Counsel celebrated 50 years of service at the Friday Center Thursday, June 6 with smooth jazz, delicious food and drinks – catered by Carolina Catering and Top Of The Hill, respectively. Ron Stutts emceed the event and speakers included Reverend Robert Seymour and J. Freeman. The elegance of the event was impeccable and second to none, except to the illuminated hearts of those involved, apart, or a product of, the Inter-Faith Counsel.


IFC Set To Prepare For Construction Of Community House

CARRBORO – Executive Director for the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Chris Moran says a plan 27-years in the making is about to make a small step in the right direction.

“We’re going to do what is considered a phase one part of the project where we will clear the land where eventual construction will take place in the second phase which will begin hopefully in the spring of 2014,” Moran says.

That constructed facility will be the IFC Community House, which will be a men’s residential facility that’s currently located in the old jail.

Moran says the Community House has received a lot of criticism over the years, mostly revolving around the people it will serve.

“It’s the whole controversy about ‘not in my neighborhood, not next to me’,” Moran says. “Moving homeless men in a facility that would be in a new location.”

He says part of that delay was fed by a lengthy legal process.

“There was a lawsuit against the Town and us saying that the Town did not follow its own legal procedures correctly, and a judge said that the Town did,” Moran says. “But, there was never a mention of it in the news media anywhere when that happened, which was surprising to me.”

Moran says in 2006, Congressman David Price secured $250,000 in Economic Development Incentive monies for this project, but it’s running out of time in which it can be used. After three or four thousand dollars was taken out for administrative purposes, 20 percent can be used for predevelopment costs like land clearing. That adds to the more than $600,000 that has already been spent on predevelopment. But, the remaining $198,000 has to be used before September, so it’s necessary to get the project underway.

In February, the United Way of the Greater Triangle cut funding to the IFC and what Moran says are other longstanding agencies and agencies of excellence. This is a story similar to what the Seymour Senior Center experienced as well.

“My view about that is that emergency shelters should be considered in what would be referred to as the safety net category, which it was not for any non-profit in the Triangle that gets United Way dollars,” Moran says.

He says if it had been, he doesn’t believe the cut would have taken place.

“Regardless of that, I think it was a real silly time for the United Way to bring in a number of new agencies when the fundraising increase was only one percent over the previous year,” Moran says.

Moran says despite the more-than-quarter-century delay and bumps along the way, it’s not going to get him or the IFC down.

“We’ve gone through a lot of pain and agony but are determined to get this project accomplished,” Moran says. “And we will.”

The Conditional Zoning Compliance Permit (ZCP) should be issued Friday or Monday if the IFC turns in a recorded offsite construction and easement plat and a temporary offsite construction agreement. The site will then be cleared, but will sit that way for six to nine months with protocols in place to minimize erosion. Clearing is likely to begin in August or September with construction beginning between March and May of 2014.