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Family Promise to assist homeless in Greenville: Belk donation helps launch effort in 10 cities


Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 18, 2019

Bright red and pink signs with the words “Share the Love” dot the department-store landscape at Belk at the Greenville Mall, part of an advertising campaign to get customers to purchase merchandise and gift cards for others.

But the signs also convey a deeper message, inviting shoppers to offer hope and support to local families in need. 

Belk has announced a $1 million partnership with Family Promise, a national nonprofit addressing family homelessness, and the retailer is asking customers to share their love of community by donating at the register through March 2. 

The $1 million contribution and customer donations will support existing Family Promise affiliates throughout the retailer’s 16-state footprint and fund the development of 10 new Family Promise affiliates in communities across the South. 

One of those affiliates will be in Greenville.

Proceeds raised locally will be given back to the community, said Cara Bradshaw, Family Promise chief impact officer.

The contribution to Family Promise is part of the retailer’s community outreach program, Belk: Project Hometown, in support of Belk’s mission to strengthen southern communities. 

Belk chose to partner with Family Promise because the mission of that organization is a good fit with Belk’s, said Tyler Hampton, Belk senior public relations manager.

“When you think about our customer and our values, ‘family’ stands out,” Hampton said. “We share a common vision (with Family Promise) that every child and family deserves a home.”

While everyone deserves a home, not all children and families have one.

“(There were) 287 children that were identified as homeless in the Pitt County school district for the 2016-17 school year,” said Jeanna Beck, Family Promise regional director.

That’s an element of homelessness that does not always catch the public’s eye, said the Rev. John Porter-Acee, rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

Homelessness can be determined by asking the question, “How many people don’t know where they are going to spend the night tomorrow night?” said Porter-Acee, who is familiar with Family Promise from his involvement with the organization in another North Carolina city before he moved to Greenville two years ago.

“We have many more homeless families in the community than people realize,” Porter-Acee said. “(People) are going to be somewhere and they’re going to be somewhere indoors, but they do not have secure housing and it’s not their own and they may be on the floor or they may be on somebody’s sofa ... You go to school as a child and you don’t know ... where you’re going to be sleeping and you have to carry everything with you all the time.” 

Another reason that Belk partnered with Family Promise is that it has a record of success, Hampton said.

“We knew that they were the best in the business at delivering results and the impact we’re looking for,” he said.

Porter-Acee also knows that the program works because he has seen it first-hand, and said he has “a lot of faith in (it).”

“(Family Promise) creates the normalcy to be a self-sustainable family,” he said.

One way that the program does that is by providing families with temporary housing they can call their own while they are facing homelessness, Porter-Acee said.

In each community it serves, Family Promise partners with 13 faith organizations (such as churches, synagogues or mosques) who provide space in their facilities for families to stay for a week at a time while they get back on their feet. Congregations provide sheets, towels and evening meals for the families.

During the day, parents can go to their jobs and children can attend school, knowing they have a predictable and safe place to return each night. A social worker oversees the five to seven families participating in the program, Porter-Acee said.

Family Promise does more than just partner with faith communities to provide temporary housing. It takes a holistic approach to serving children and families experiencing homelessness, Beck said. 

“(Our goal is) to serve the entire family unit,” she said. “We (offer) comprehensive services (such as) life skills classes to financial literacy (classes) ... things to help ... really build that sustainable foundation — not just housing, but really looking at the overall wellness of the family.”

Ashley Rhame, the store manager at the Greenville Mall Belk, finds Family Promise’s focus on preventing homelessness to be “really cool.”

“It’s not just about shelters. It’s about how to build up families and how to keep them together and get them on their feet and get them to a place in their life where they’re comfortable, and I think that’s really powerful that we’re (giving) to an organization that’s going to help people build long-term solutions,” Rhame said.

Rhame hopes customers will contribute at the register.

“It’s really great to know that we’re giving to an organization that is going to benefit our local community ... and then we certainly appreciate the community’s support, so if they ask you at the register, give them a dollar so that we can help out our local organization,” she said.

In case customers at the register have any questions, Porter-Acee said he would tell them that Family Promise is a national organization that is proven to get homeless families off the street and living an independent life that is full of promise for the future.

The launching of the Greenville affiliate is in the “very, very early stages,” Beck said.

Porter-Acee is playing an organizational role in getting that affiliate started.

He said he has seen Family Promise have a positive effect not only on the families it serves, but on the volunteers who support it.

“I think the people who ... give are also given things themselves and their hearts and their outlooks are changed in the process and that, to me, is what the success of the program is,” he said. “Anybody that is a part of it, whether it is a family trying to get off the street or (a volunteer family) trying to make a lasagna, their lives are bettered from their participation in the program.”

A meeting is scheduled for noon on Wednesday in the fellowship hall at Oakmont Baptist Church, 1100 Red Banks Road, for anyone in the community interested in learning more about the establishment of the Greenville affiliate, he said.

For more information about Family Promise visit https://familypromise.org. John Porter-Acee can be reached at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church at 355-2125.  

Karen Eckert can be reached at 329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.