Bless our hearts as Edmund Burke quoted: The only thing necessary for the triump of evil is for good men(and women) to...

Feeding the multitudes: Holiday food program weathering financial challenge

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Tony Williams (center) passes down a donation box filled with food with the help of Mark Hessert (left) and Brandon Tate (right) at First Born Holy Church, Saturday morning.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Giving away Thanksgiving meals at First Born Community Development Center is known among volunteers as “the feeding of the 5,000.” It's a reference to the New Testament account of Jesus taking a little bread and some fish and being able to serve lunch to the multitudes.

For years, First Born has been providing food for about 4,800 people every Thanksgiving and Christmas. But being able to do so this year was looking like it might take a miracle. 

It costs about $30 each to provide ready-to-cook meals of turkey and all the trimmings for 600 families who are scheduled to receive boxes of food today at the annual Thanksgiving distribution in Grimesland. Between the cost of the food and the truck rental fee, the day's expenses total nearly $20,000. Earlier this week, funding was nearly $10,000 short of that total. 

“It has been a tremendous challenge this year,” said Robbie Taylor, a member of First Born's board of directors.“There are a lot of needs out there.”

For more than a decade, Taylor has led the grassroots effort to coordinate the holiday distributions. People can make tax-deductible contributions year-round, but the official fundraising campaign generally launches in mid-October.

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, Taylor held off a few weeks before asking for donations this year. He knew that many of First Born's regular contributors also have been giving toward hurricane relief. 

“God has been faithful to provide for this effort every year, but this year is starting off remarkably different than the past,” Taylor wrote in his fundraising letter. “... The need is real and it is urgent!”

The holiday distribution account contained less than $1,000, and there was less than a month remaining before the first giveaway. In previous years, organizers have been able to launch their fundraising campaign with $8,000 or more in the bank.

Taylor said some of this year's shortfall began even before Florence hit. Last year's distribution fell short of its fundraising goal, but a handful of First Born supporters chipped in to make sure that food expenses were covered.

Gwendolyn Smith, president of First Born's board of directors, said the ministry that her father, James Smith, founded in 1992 has endured its share of financial hardships through the years.

“We're not going to give up through the storms and everything we've been through,” she said.

“We do understand that the donations with Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael, it's going to be a little strained, but we are trusting God that he is still going to make a way for us,” Smith said Thursday. “He hasn't failed us in the last 25 years, and I know he's not going to fail us now.”

By Friday, First Born’s prayers had been answered. Taylor said food costs were slightly lower than expected, and a last-minute donation of $7,500 helped to meet expenses. Another $20,000 will be needed to fund the Christmas meal, to be distributed on Dec. 22.

While the center has struggled to find funding and volunteers, the number of people it serves continues to grow. Taylor can remember serving 100 to 125 families at Thanksgiving, but by 2009, there were more than 400 families being served. Since 2011, 600 families have received meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Those families come from throughout the county. About 100 are in the Bethel area, and about 50 others have their meals delivered because they are unable to travel to the center to get them.

“This is taking care of a segment that's what I call the working poor,” Taylor said. “They're the ones that are in between. They get left out on the big government programs. These are the guys and girls that are out there raking and scraping just to make ends meet.

“That's why this is important to me because we're helping people who are just in between,” he said. “They're kind of forgotten.”

Supporters have set up a Go Fund Me page and are requesting online donations through social media, which also has been used to recruit volunteers.

Taylor expects 80 to 100 people to help staff the event, including members of ECU's baseball team, who turn out every year. Volunteers line up to help unload food from the trucks and help carry boxes to recipients' cars.

“When you talk to them, it's such a blessing,” Taylor said. “We've had so many miracles happen as a result of this. … It's showing a little bit of Jesus to that community.”

The interaction between volunteers and those in need has led to other efforts to help. One volunteer helped a family get a heating system repaired. Another group of volunteers found a replacement mobile home for a woman whose trailer was falling apart.

Smith said that for most recipients, today's event simply allows them to serve their families a meal that many people take for granted. For donors and volunteers, it is a chance to serve others.

“I believe what my daddy has taught us: We're here to help our neighbor,” she said. “That's what the Bible says.”

Tax-deductible contributions to the First Born Community Development Center's holiday food distribution may be made through Go Fund Me or through the organization's Facebook page at facebook.com/FirstBornGrimeslandNC/. Make checks payable to First Born CDC and mail to Equipment Plus, 3530 Diamond Drive, Greenville, NC 27834. For more information, call Robbie Taylor at 531-7551 or email rtaylor@eplustfs.com

Other Thanksgiving events coming up include:

Turkey dinners

Freedom Baptist Church, 234 Snow Hill St., Ayden, will give away a turkey and the fixings that make up a Thanksgiving dinner (six or seven non-perishable items) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today to the first 100 people who show up at the church. The giveaway is for people in need of assistance this Thanksgiving. For more information contact Pastor Worth Forbes at 714-9587.

Community dinner

Mount Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. 224 Boyd St., Winterville, hold a free community dinner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today or until all food is given away. Pastor C.E. Cunningham and the church family “had a tremendous and successful” event last year and we expect the same again this year. Winterville residents and people from surrounding communities are invited to come, according to the church.

JOY Thanksgiving dinner

The JOY (Jesus, Others and You) Soup Kitchen, 700 Albemarle Ave., will host its annual Thanksgiving meal at 11:30 a.m. today. Dine-in meals and takeout will be provided. The kitchen will not be open on Thanksgiving Day. More than 20 volunteers will be working in kitchen and serving area. Contact JOY now to help with daily meals and at Christmas. For more information, visit joysoupkitchen.org.

Interfaith Celebration

The 17th Annual Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 1400 S. Elm St. There will be representatives of the many faith traditions in the community sharing their unique expressions of Thanksgiving. Refreshments and social time will follow in the fellowship hall. Donations of nonperishable food will be received to help feed the hungry. All are welcome. For more information, contact the Rev. Rod Debs at 850-225-3826 or revdebs@gmail.com.

Vegetarian Feast

Vegetarians In Pitt County will hold their annual Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 131 Oakmont Drive. The meat-free meal will feature traditional Thanksgiving foods (but no bird). Guest speaker Ron Allison, M.D., will speak on “Jump Starting Your Health with a Plant-Based Diet.” All are welcome. Contact Laura Robinson at Laurasmail@suddenlink.net for more information.

Turkey Trot for Kids

The Sixth Annual Beau’s Buddies Turkey Trot for Kids will be held at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day at the Hilton Greenville, 207 S.W. Greenville Blvd. The event is a 5K Run/Walk and a 1-Mile Fun Walk. More than 500 runners have signed up to participate, and all of the proceeds raised go to local families battling cancer. Registration is open now. For more information about fees, the route and registration, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/NC/Greenville/BeausBuddiesTurkeyTrotforKids.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Several groups are holding a community Thanksgiving Dinner from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at York Memeorial AME Zion Church, 201 Tyson St. The event is sponsored by The Little Willie Center, Mount Herman Masonic Lodge No. 35, #Something to Somebody and Ladies Delight No. 10 & Partners. Volunteers are needed. Call Melissa Arrington at 717-8745.

Free Thanksgiving dinner

Compassionate Faith Outreach Ministries, 2301 Dickinson Ave., will serve a free Thanksgiving dinner at noon on Thanksgiving day to the needy, homeless, all those without family and to anyone who just needs good fellowship. If possible, RSVP by Tuesday to 919-396-2788. RSVP is helpful, but not required.