As generosity ebbs and flows, so do the coffers at Clayton Area Ministries. But director Dale Matthews says the community food pantry has never had to turn anyone away.
One time, the food closet was out of meats, but that morning, a man stopped by with bologna, and later, some Boy Scouts brought hot dogs.
“We’ll never run out because we have someone upstairs looking out for us,” Matthews says.
This week, the stores are full, and by full, Matthews means the current supply will last two or three weeks. The food closet has bags of fresh collards, a box of coconuts, 1,000 cans of tuna and stacked boxes of pantry staples like peanut butter and canned vegetables. Those foods and hundreds of other items are in a 1,000-square-foot building on East Main Street.
Earlier this year, the Clayton Chamber of Commerce named Matthews and her husband Steve its Citizens of the Year, largely for their work with Clayton Area Ministries, but also for the couple’s sponsorship of other causes and athletics.
“I’m honored and humbled,” Dale Matthews said. “I thought I was going to watch my husband get an award, and he thought he was there to see me get an award. It’s sweet. But there’s a lot more work done by my volunteers, who are there every day of the week. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Matthews said Clayton Area Ministries feeds 700 people per month, offering food assistance once per year and help with a power bill once a year. Area residents pick up vouchers from local churches to receive food.
Matthews she started volunteering at the food bank 17 years ago under the direction of Clessie Pollard. Eight years ago, she took over as director.
“I’ve always had a passion for people who don’t have enough food,” Matthews said. “When it all comes together, God will show you how he wants to use you.”
From her vantage point as director, Matthews says the recession hit the Clayton area hard. Even now, many people continue to struggle, she said.
“The biggest challenge was in those years 2007 and 2008,” Matthews said. “Since then it’s been tough for folks, and it’s hard finding a job.
“You hear people say that the economy has turned around ... but it’s still hard for many people. There’s still a need to help people.”
Charity can be hard, both the giving and the receiving, but Matthews says it’s always good to help someone out.
“There’s a satisfaction in knowing that we kept the heat on at someone’s house while it was cold and they were having a hard time,” she said. “We say a prayer every day to not judge the people who come to us, to accept what we see in front of us and try to help.”
Steve Matthews said his main involvement with the food bank is an annual golf tournament, now in its fifth year. But along with his dealership Matthews Motors, he’s been one of the organizers of JoCo Teen Drivers, a countywide student group aimed at reducing teen driving deaths.
“Basically, we see it as if we save one teenager’s life, we’ve done our job,” Matthews said. “Obviously we’d love to save all teenagers lives, but preventing even one death makes a difference. It’s near and dear to my heart. ... We’re constantly trying to educate people about not texting while driving, wearing a seatbelt, not being distracted.”
Dale and Steve met at N.C. State University, where Steve had transferred after an injury ended his baseball career at UNC-Wilmington. Dale was studying to be a biology teacher.
“We met at a beach music festival, met up back at school, and the rest, as they say, is history,” Dale said.
After school, Dale taught biology at Smithfield-Selma Senior High School, and Steve worked at a couple of car dealerships. In 1994, he opened his own dealerships with three cars and a boat.
“At first we were happy selling one car a day,” he said. “Then we got 10 cars out there, then 20, then 40, then 60.”
As a salesman, he picked up the nickname the “Walking Man’s Friend” because people would take a cab to his lot and drive away with a car.
Steve Matthews said he too was humbled by the chamber’s award.
“I’m very pleased, it’s one of the highest honors you could receive here,” he said. “I love what I do. Community is such a big part of what we do.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson