When Community of Hope first got started 10 years ago, it was a federally funded program that offered tutoring services to economically disadvantaged children.
The grant lasted four years.
Today, it has expanded into seven ministries that help families in need. Among those ministries are its tutoring program, food pantry, summer camp and Jobs for Life program that helps people who are unemployed get and maintain a job.
“We saw it as an opportunity to not only break the cycle of poverty by giving them a strong educational foundation, but then we wanted to use it as a tool to reach out to folks with the love of Christ,” program director Amy White said. “At the end of the grant we realized that children in need are just representatives of families in need.”
The program was birthed out of First Baptist Church. It is a non-profit organization. White was part of a team that reached out to her home church, as well as other churches in the community to ask if they would be willing to house the program. She had been on the Wake County Board of Education and recognized that there was a need for support for children in the community.
There were many children going home to households that were unsupervised in the afternoon and did not have the instructional support to be successful in the classroom, she said. First Baptist was the only church in Garner that initially agreed to help.
It will celebrate its 10th birthday this month.
“We use all of these programs as a way to minister to folks in need,” White said.
Now with the help of other churches and donors, the non-profit organization’s ministries have taken off . That includes its food pantry, which started out as a few volunteers giving away groceries out of a small closet. They currently give away 161,000 meals a year to the Garner community.
Thursday, a small group of people lined up at First Baptist Church of Garner to get groceries at 11 a.m. Some had low-income jobs. Others were out of work. Some were there to help themselves and others. All were struggling to make ends meet.
Before getting their groceries, the person meets with a counselor and talks about God and life. They talk and pray together and are asked if they need any more support. Afterward, they stand in line and get their groceries, choosing from fresh vegetables, fruits, potatoes, rice and anything you could get at a farmers market.
Linda Barbour, a native of Garner, lost her job at Sam’s Club during the recession. A wife, she struggled.
“It affected us a lot because my husband had the only income when he was used to two people paying the bills,” she said. “It still has an impact some when bills are due. You have to go to other sources to get assistance.”
She heard about the food pantry a year ago from a friend who would bring her. She comes twice a year when the food is low.
“It helps me and my family to have another meal on the table,” she said. “Everything is so high in the grocery store now. Some nights I might have not had a meal at all.”
“And having the scripture part, you can talk to them about anything that is going on in your life.”
Robert Brown, 64, a Garner resident agreed.
Brown, is a camper living in the woods in a tent after struggling with alcoholism all of his life. When the weather gets bad he lives with friends and family. Without a car to get around, he walks. He comes to the food pantry once a month to get groceries.
“It helps me with my food,” he said. “And it helps to get some of the things that I need.”
If not for volunteers and donations, the operating budget would be $500,000. The town also gives an annual $7,000 grant to the program. Community of Hope is paid for through many donations from corporations and several grants.
“The number of people that have said ‘yes’ is just enormous,” White said. “It is not one person or entity that is supporting Community of Hope. It is many many many many hands working together to support the seven ministries that we operate.
“We could not do what we do without an enormous amount of in-kind donations, meaning donation of time, donation of food, donation of volunteers because we have a very small staff.”
More than 300 people have volunteered for Community of Hope in its different ministries, she said.
Mike Ash, a manager at Chick-Fil-A at Garner Towne Square, comes to volunteer at the food pantry when he is off work.
“I do it to be a blessing in the community,” Ash said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s a way to show the love of Christ. We’ve been helped along the way and we just want to help others and return the favor.”