E. Stokes Outreach celebrates new building’s groundbreaking

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Betty Jo Burroughs (from left), Dennis Slate, and Christopher Higgins, volunteers at the East Stokes Outreach Ministry, assemble bags of food for clients of the ministry Monday. (David Rolfe/Journal)

STOKES COUNTY, N.C. — Marchelle Brown’s door is always open.

Or it would be, if she actually had a door. Doors take up too much space.

Brown is the executive director of East Stokes Outreach Ministry in Walnut Cove, one of only two major outreach facilities in Stokes County.

The ministry has temporarily housed its food pantry operation in rented space since it was forced to abandon its deteriorating pantry building almost two years ago, and things are tight. The doors were even taken off the hinges to conserve space.

But this Thanksgiving, the ministry has something special to celebrate.

On Wednesday morning, East Stokes held a ceremonial ground breaking at the site of its former pantry, located at 301 W. Third St. The ministry will start rebuilding on the site after Thanksgiving.

The timing just happened to coincide with the holiday season.

“I don’t think it could’ve happened at a more perfect time,” Brown said.

Jayson Duncan, chairman of the East Stokes Outreach Ministry Board of Directors, said the ground-breaking shows the community “that a group of people working together can make something happen.”

In February 2012, East Stokes moved out of its old food pantry and office building after the floor began giving way. The building was 75 years old and rapidly deteriorating. A professional looked at the building and said mold repair alone would cost $22,000.

“It was not worth the fix,” Brown said.

The ministry moved its main office and pantry to rental space in the Family Pharmacy complex on Main Street. The space has been a blessing, Brown said, but things are tight.

The traditional influx of donations at Thanksgiving means food lines the hallway or wherever volunteers can find space. Volunteers also conduct most business from the hallway.

Because there is nowhere to put extra stock, volunteers have to purchase food on a weekly basis.

“We make it work,” Brown said.

The new building will be 3,000 square feet and will house pantry space and administrative offices. It could be completed in six months.

Duncan envisions space to offer some other ministry services to the community, such as classes for money management.

“We’re going to expand our horizon in helping those in need,” he said, “’cause we’ll have the space.”

The former building was torn down last July.

“It was a very emotional thing, seeing it torn down,” Brown said.

The building sat next to the ministry’s thrift store, which generates the income to keep the operation going. Brown looks forward to a time when the pantry and thrift store will once again be side by side on Third Street.

So far, East Stokes has generated $160,000 for a new building through grants, fundraisers and donations, but it needs more. Brown said leaders hope to get a new building constructed for $250,000 or less.

Duncan said his hope is that by the time the ribbon-cutting is held, the ministry won’t owe any money.

Donations have been coming in from across Stokes County and beyond. Brown noted that one man in Winston-Salem sends $1 every month.

“I can’t express to you that the $50,000 is any more or less (important) than the $1, because there’s so much that goes into this, so much heart,” Brown said.

East Stokes runs on a tight budget, with only three paid workers. That includes Brown, the thrift store director, and a Saturday dock worker.

The ministry has 130 volunteers.

“If we didn’t have them, we’d have to close the doors,” Brown said.

Angie Lord moved here six months ago from Charlotte and typically volunteers at least once a week. She said volunteers are excited about the prospect of a new building, because more space is definitely needed to accommodate the demand.

“There’s so many people out there that don’t have, that need help,” Lord said.

Need isn’t going away

East Stokes serves the eastern half of Stokes County. Its food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and is generally filled with clients and volunteers.

The outreach typically serves about 375 families a month. Most of the families get food, but some also get other items such as clothing. Some seniors 65 and older can get help every month, but others are limited to six times a year.

And the need isn’t going away. The agency has seen 252 new families this year, in addition to its regulars.

According to statistics from Feeding America, one out of four children in Stokes County suffers from food insecurity. The statistic is about the same with seniors, Brown said.

In October, the ministry had to turn some people away because the food supply was so low. The outreach also had to cut back on the amount of food it was giving per package.

“It just seemed to hit us a little harder this October,” Brown said.

The agency also turns people away daily who need help paying electric bills. The agency helps when it has the money, such as when Salvation Army provides special funding.

The agency used to give out personal care items, but it has stopped stocking them for now because when forced to choose between the two, Brown would rather purchase food.

The outreach can always use more volunteers, food, monetary donations and fundraising ideas.

“And we always need the prayers of the community,” Brown said.

On Sunday, East Stokes is sponsoring a Christmas Tour of Homes Extravaganza in hopes of raising more funds for the new building.

Brown dreams of a business deciding to donate the rest of the needed building funds this Christmas.

“It could happen,” she said with a smile.

By Meghan Evans/Winston-Salem Journal

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