Coalition: Good Deeds Are All in a Day's Work
The Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care, tucked away where Indiana Avenue dead-ends in a remote corner of West Southern Pines, is about the last place many of us would happen to pass by on our way somewhere else.
But trust me: A whole lot of good gets quietly done there by some good people. And you could be one of them.
I spent last Thursday morning "volunteering" there - which needs to be in quotes because I didn't get much accomplished, and I signed up only because Carol Haney bugged several of us Southern Pines Rotary members into doing it.
Though I don't deserve any pats on the back, some of the folks I met there definitely do. They're the ones who routinely return there time after time to help their fellow humans - but, unlike the Pharisees in the Bible, don't send someone ahead of them to ring a bell announcing it to the world.
Take Pat Voss. She's the regular volunteer who happened to be riding herd on the food pantry on that morning when I and another new recruit, my neighbor and fellow Rotarian Mitch Lancaster, reported for duty. Whenever an order came down, our job was to scurry around filling grocery carts with bags of staples from the pantry shelves - things like bread, canned vegetables, frozen meat, cheese, rice and canned soup.
Five years ago, Pat moved to Pinehurst after retiring early from a job managing a winery in California.
"A couple of years ago," she said, "I cleaned out all my closets and had 15 big bags of clothes that I took over to the Coalition's retail shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southern Pines. And when I saw the masses of stuff they had coming in the door every day, and people in there sorting through everything, I thought, 'Hmm. They could probably use some help here.'
"And I still work one day a week over there at retail. But then Laura Duffy, who organizes all the volunteers for the food pantry, told me she needed somebody for a couple of days later, so I've been coming here once a month - or more if they need somebody to fill in."
Why does she do it?
"My father was always a big volunteer back in Cincinnati," she said. "And I didn't have a lot of extra time to volunteer when I was working. But now I've got the time and the energy, and there are a lot people out there who could use a little help."
Are there ever - especially in these difficult times.
The Coalition office handled 5,545 client visits last year, which boils down to an average of a couple of dozen per day. The morning we were there turned out to be lighter than that, but on other days the volunteers have had to scramble to provide a week's food to as many as 68 individuals.
Anyone who shows up between 8:30 and 11 a.m. Monday through Friday gets interviewed and considered, though it's often hours after the doors close before the needed help can be arranged.
Don't confuse this with the county Social Services office, and don't picture the Coalition's clients as a bunch of welfare queens, if there are such things. Many if not most of those who show up at the Coalition are first-time visitors who need help coping with a particular emergency. It might be a job loss, or an illness or injury that limits the ability to work, or an urgent family situation of a kind that can strike any of us out of the blue.
"We see elderly people who are trying to live on a fixed income, and we see young people encountering unexpected problems," says Barrett Walker, the Coalition's energetic and dedicated executive director. "Just recently we had a couple with a 3-year-old son - both had jobs, but she had hurt her back and was out of work for six weeks. They were living check-to-check and were getting ready to lose their electrical service.
"The point of the Coalition is that we're a crisis agency. Our primary goal is to be that stopgap, whether it's someone who's been ill or out of work, or maybe they applied for food stamps but didn't get them. Because our resources are so limited, the goal is to get them over the hump and get them back on their feet. We get every kind of person you can imagine."
With every kind of problem.
Everyone who shows up must talk at length with one of several screeners. You don't just demand help and get it. IDs are required, stories checked out, leads followed. An atmosphere of tough love seems to permeate the place. Besides food and clothing, other services can include transportation for medical appointments and help arranging visits with various professionals.
The morning I was there, a retired Navy chaplain named Harry MacCall came and went several times, taking clients to and from places they needed to go and hauling in donated supplies. One of his customers didn't show at the appointed time and place, which had Harry rolling his eyes in good-natured exasperation.
Everyone who works in this kind of organization, whether volunteer or paid staffer (the Coalition has only a total of three of the latter at its two locations), is bound to end up approaching his job with mixed feelings.
The primary motivation is idealism and a desire to help one's fellow man, but there's also a measure of cynicism born of having seen it all and glimpsed some of the less flattering sides of human nature.
Minor example: After one young mother had loaded her car with groceries, she came back to say we had forgotten to give her her allotment of bread. We gave her another loaf, though we were pretty sure we had included the bread the first time.
In general, though, I can report that the clients I happened to meet on that morning seemed genuinely needy and grateful. In many cases, those emotions clearly mixed with a degree of embarrassment and shame at being brought so low as to have to ask strangers for help. My heart went out to some of them.
Clearly, this was also the case with volunteer screener Kay Bozarth, who came into our room late in the morning so overcome with emotion over an experience she had just had that she was practically shedding tears of joy.
She had been working with a younger woman who had made a big mistake and ended up spending seven months in prison for a drug offense. By the time she got out, not only had she lost custody of her children but she also was required to pay child support - money she didn't have.
"She's a very upbeat person," Kay said, "and she's determined to get out of her hole. She said, 'In prison, I went to every program they had, and I learned so much about me - that I'm worth it and I can do it. There were all the things I was thinking drugs would help me with, and they didn't. But now I know I can get help."
The woman wanted to be a waitress, but she was concerned that she couldn't get a job because she had lost some teeth, making her so self-conscious about appearance that she wouldn't smile.
"So I thought, 'If there was just something we could do,'" Kay told us. "So I called some dentists, and one of them agreed to see her. And when she came back here just now, she was so thrilled. She told me the dentist had told her, 'I'll make you those dentures, and I won't charge you anything.' She was just shaking, she was so happy."
It's little triumphs like that, you could tell, that make those long, stressful mornings at the Coalition for Human Care worthwhile. If you think you could spare a little time in your busy schedule for a rewarding experience of that kind, please consider giving the Coalition a call at (910) 693-1600.
They need you.
Steve Bouser is opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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