By Todd Cohen
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. When the Rev. Sharon Freeland was growing up in Hillsborough, local residents regularly pitched in to help their neighbors in times of need.
“If you were hungry in the community, and your neighbors knew you were hungry, you weren’t hungry any more,” she says. “There was a lot of giving.”
In 1981, recognizing that as individual organizations they could not handle all the requests for emergency assistance they were getting, three local churches formed Orange Congregations In Mission, or OCIM, a nonprofit that would serve people in the rural northern part of Orange County facing crises in their lives.
Today, with nearly 50 member congregations that each contributes half of one percent of its annual operating budget, OCIM delivers meals, provides emergency assistance, and operates a thrift shop.
The nonprofit also faces rising demand in the face of economic uncertainty and an influx of new residents attracted to a part of the county with lower living costs than the pricier Chapel Hill to the south.
And with growth has come a loss of connection.
“We don’t know our neighbors any more,” says Freeland, executive director of OCIM and associate pastor of Mount Bright Baptist Church.
OCIM is looking to raise $2 million in a capital campaign for a new facility that would double its current 10,000-square-foot quarters in Hillsborough.
Operating with an annual budget of nearly $855,000, a staff of four employees working full-time and five working part-time, and 120 to 135 active volunteers, OCIM last year served 11,000 people through its Samaritan Relief Ministry.
The Orange County Department of Social Services referred most of those clients to OCIM, which provided food to nearly 9,000 of them, and also provided clothing and financial assistance.
Though its Meals on Wheels program, OCIM last year served over 7,000 meals.
And it generates about 15 percent of its annual budget from a thrift shop that sells new and gently-used items of clothing, furniture and other products donated by businesses and individuals.
OCIM also serves as a resource for people seeking assistance, referring them to other agencies that provide services and support.
“OCIM is one place where our member congregations can send people, not only for food and emergency financial help, but also for resources,” Freeland says. “If we can’t help you, we can refer you.”
The nonprofit also partners with other local agencies.
The Department of Social Services, for example, refers to OCIM people who need food, financial assistance or other support. OCIM provides individuals and families referred to it with a week’s worth of food up to six times a year.
In addition to financial support from its member congregations, OCIM counts on their members, who serve as volunteers and donors for its pantry and deliver meals through its Meals on Wheels program.
And OCIM, which has begun the quiet phase of the capital campaign to raise money for its new facility, benefited from a barbecue fundraiser hosted by Walter Faribault at Exchange Club Park on August 19, and will benefit from an annual softball tournament in September.
“Things have changed greatly since I came on board in 1991,” Freeland says. “The need is much greater.”