Fifty years ago, a group of churches came together with the simple idea that they could do more working together.
There were black congregations and white congregations and a Jewish synagogue. In a time of great divisiveness, this group found unity. Led by Margaret Keller, the group was known as Christian Community in Action, but later came to be known as Dorcas Ministries, the title it still carries.
“From these first efforts, Dorcas has blossomed into what it is today,” says Howard Manning, executive director.
Dorcas Ministries offers a dozen different client services, including financial assistance, childcare assistance, emergency housing, a food pantry, a career advancement program, and mental health referrals.
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Manning says that 80 percent of the agency’s funding comes through its thrift shop.
“We took a leap of faith in 2008, when we purchased the former Food Lion shopping center,” Manning says. “We call it a one-stop shop. We wanted to create a center where people could get most, if not all, of their needs met.”
Besides Dorcas Ministries, the complex also houses a Habitat ReStore and a Read and Feed program.
Manning says that by the end of next year, the agency will be debt-free after the $5.5 million purchase and upfit a decade ago. Most of the agency’s budget goes toward crisis assistance, Manning says, and Dorcas Ministries involves some 600 volunteers. More than three dozen local congregations now support the agency, and it spearheaded the Cary Area Ministerial Alliance.
“Our model has worked for 50 years, and we hope it will work for 50 more,” Manning notes.
Manning became a volunteer at Dorcas Ministries in 2005, after retiring in 2003 from GlaxoSmithKline, where he was an executive in charge of training.
When the executive director resigned, Manning was approached. He took his business acumen and applied it to the nonprofit. The agency’s CFO is Alger Faber, a former executive with Ford.
“For the staff, it’s a ministry,” Manning says. “Dorcas grows on you. My wife says I live, breathe and eat Dorcas. I put in more hours here than I did at my other job. It’s just so rewarding. Every day has its challenges.”
Manning admits that you don’t see homelessness as much in an area as affluent as Cary. “But you’d be surprised how many people are couch surfing, or living with relatives, or sleeping in their cars. The hardships are more severe for the least of these among us.”
The fact that rents keep increasing in the area doesn’t help, he says. So Dorcas has created a career advancement program to close the gap between income and rent.
“We can’t control the rent,” he says, “but we can have an impact on earning potential.”
The agency will help 24,000 individuals in 2018, and will exceed $1.25 million in direct client assistance and another $250,000 in food assistance, Manning explains. “We are digging deeper, and also going wider.”
Families with children who attend Cary or Morrisville public schools, anyone who lives in Cary or has worked in Cary or Morrisville for more than 6 months and at least 20 hours a week is eligible for services.
The ministry does have a food pantry, but is moving toward a hybrid model of a pantry and food cards, Manning says. “If the need for food increases, the current model will not work.”
The building is also undergoing a renovation in the “back of the house,” creating improvements in safety and efficiency.
“When we bought this building, we thought we’d be good for 20 years space-wise,” Manning notes. “Three years later, we were bursting at the seams.”
Manning walks through the back of house, where there are spacious areas for sorting and pricing items for the thrift shop. Sissy Burford and Pat Sherman are sorting bags from a mountain of white trash bags behind them.
The most unusual thing they’ve ever found?
“$300,” Sherman says. “It was in one of the pocketbooks. I turned it in right away.”
No one claimed it, so it was donated to the ministry.
Burford says she loves “the thrill of the hunt. It’s exciting.”
For that same reason, Manning says, the thrift shop has a lot of repeat customers — some come in several times a day just to see what’s new.
“Every day, we have at least 10 people waiting at the door when we open,” says Stephanie Davis-Potts, co-manager with Hailey Goodall.
“We talk to our clients about what they need,” says outreach director Jill Straight, adding that the agency has conducted detailed surveys. “Clients appreciate the ministry and see themselves as a part of the ministry. When they have extra, they give. They appreciate being part of that circle — giving when you can give and humbling yourself when you’re in need.”
187 High House Road, Cary NC 27511
How to help: Donate food cards or cash to complement the grocrery in the food pantry or donate gently used items — clothing, household goods, small appliances, furniture, books, etc. The website has a list of acceptable and unacceptable items. Volunteers are needed to work in various areas of the thrift shop, food pantry, training center, and client services. Check the Web site for specific current volunteer needs and how to volunteer. Shop in our Dorcas Thrift Shop. Proceeds from sales generate funds to support our client services.
Financial donations are always needed and wanted.