‘Our numbers are definitely unprecedented’: SCCM is working overtime to feed the community

With people recently laid off and isolating at home, combined with many restaurants offering scaled-back service with reduced hours and overburdened grocery stores, food insecurity has become a growing concern for many families during the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been 21 confirmed cases in Stanly and four deaths, according to the health department. Approximately 650 people in the county have been tested.

Stanly Community Christian Ministry has been busier than ever during the past month in ensuring that households have enough food to help sustain them.

Beginning this week, people can make appointments to pick up food from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at its Albemarle headquarters (506 S. First St., Albemarle), said Jenny Clore, development director with SCCM. Families are given an assigned parking spot and staff then safely leave the food at the front of the vehicles.

“We’re really trying to increase our no-contact initiative,” Clore said.

Each family receives a 25-pound pre-packed pantry box and a 20-pound government aid box. The organization hopes to be able to increase the pantry box poundage based on the number of people in the household. Typical food items include canned meats, fruits and vegetables, pasta, soups, breakfast items and miscellaneous items like peanut butter and rice.

SCCM is able to feed about 54 households per day, including four households every 30 minutes. Though families are usually permitted to visit the pantry once a month, due to the severity of the crisis families can now visit every two weeks.

In addition to the food pantry, both Community Table locations in Albemarle and Norwood are serving to-go meals between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Albemarle is open Monday through Sunday while Norwood is open Monday through Saturday.

The organization has had to tweak its logistics because volunteers are no longer working, only the 10 staff members. SCCM also had to close its clothing closet last month, which accounts for a major portion of its annual revenue, though the employees are now helping at the Albemarle food pantry. The Norwood food pantry has also temporarily closed.

As SCCM has had to scale back its workforce, it has seen an explosive growth in the number of families seeking assistance. There was an 111 percent increase in the number of clients in March compared to February, Clore said, adding that the organization is averaging about 250 households per week, much higher than the 160 before the pandemic.

“This is our 35th year and our numbers are definitely unprecedented,” Clore said, noting that they are “probably higher than the 2008 recession.”

Several Albemarle council members in their closing remarks Monday night praised the work SCCM was doing to feed as many families as possible in the county.

On Thursday, Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall said SCCM does more than provide food to families — it’s an “umbrella that takes care of the clothing closet, it takes care of the crisis assistance fund and the community table.”

“I just applaud Heather (Kilde) and her staff and her volunteer base and her monetary support base” for how they continue to serve the community, Hall said.

In the last two weeks of March, SCCM gained 179 new clients, Clore said, many of whom recently lost their jobs and are not used to relying on a food bank for assistance. They are often embarrassed to be seeking assistance, “but we try and welcome them with a smile and let them know that we’re all in this together,” she said.

The SCCM food pantry serves individuals and families who are up to 200 percent of the poverty level in terms of income, Clore said. The organization is basing the calculation on people’s current income not based on what they were making or hope to make once the pandemic ends.

Even with the $1,200 federal stimulus checks being distributed, “it’s going to take time for these households to regroup again,” Clore said.

The smaller staff is working longer hours and even working from home, which has taken a toll on them, especially in the midst of a historic pandemic.

“It’s mentally draining just always having to reassess, reevaluate and pivot based on new information that has come out or the changing landscape,” Clore said, though she added that the staff has been flexible and “have hearts to serve.”

Because so many people are relying on SCCM for food assistance, it has placed a strain on the organization to make sure its pantry is continuously well-stocked. Too often, more food is being distributed to families than is coming in.

“One of our biggest struggles is replenishing our food supply,” Clore said.

The food is delivered to the pantry by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, but lately “what we’re able to get from them is hit or miss,” Clore said. The organization has also struggled to order food from grocery stores, since many of them are dealing with their own issues, though Clore noted SCCM has found two who should be able to help.

The good news is the community has stepped up. Individuals and groups, such as churches, have continued to donate food and Clore recently learned a local business plans to coordinate a food drive. But more donations are still needed. She encourages people to organize local food drives or donate online. A $20 donation supports one family for a week, according to the organization’s website.

Donations “would be very helpful to help us keep up with the food needs,” she said.

SCCM organizes a mobile food pantry event each month and this Thursday, starting at 9 a.m., food items will be delivered to families at Oakboro District Park. The goal is to feed at least 300 families.

Though the organization has been busy with the increased number of families seeking assistance, Clore is proud that SCCM has been such an indispensable resource for so many.

“Our mission at SCCM is to share Christ’s love by providing assistance and support to our neighbors,” Clore said.

She is grateful that the organization has been able to “provide these families with a basic human need of food in a time when they feel that all is lost and they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

“We want people to know that we’re here to help them.”

If people are in need of food, they can call SCCM at 704-982-7915 to schedule an appointment. Food can be dropped off at 506 South First Street in Albemarle.