Group works to fill gaps for people in need

By Todd Cohen

CARRBORO, N.C. — Roughly one in five people who live in Orange County are poor, and many people who work at service jobs in the county cannot afford to live there.

“There’s a huge disparity between haves and have-nots in Orange County, one of the most  affluent counties in the state,” says John Dorward, who just stepped down as co-director of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Carrboro.

And with state and federal government cuts looming in spending to address basic human needs, he says, demand for those services will only increase.

Founded in 1963 by seven women from different churches who wanted to help close a gap they saw in services for people in need, the nonprofit today provides basic services for people living and working in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

Those services range from emergency financial support and crisis intervention to homeless shelters and a community kitchen, food pantry, and medical and dental clinic.

The Inter-Faith Council operates with support from 50 to 60 churches, a staff of 19 full-time employees and eight working part-time, 750 volunteers, and an annual budget of $1.9 million, plus in-kind gifts worth another $2.2 million to $2.4 million.

In September 2015, after raising $5.9 million in a capital campaign, the Inter-Faith Council opened a 52-bed men’s shelter at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill, replacing a smaller shelter in the former municipal building on West Rosemary Street.

And now it is preparing for a campaign to raise $5.2 million to raze a building it owns at 110 West Main St. in Carrboro that houses its food pantry, crisis-intervention services and administrative offices, and build a new facility that will house those programs as well as its community kitchen now located in the Rosemary Street building.

The new facility, which would open near the end of 2020 and still needs approval from the town of Carrboro, would  include a larger kitchen that would allow the Inter-Faith Council to offer classes in food, nutrition and cooking, and to better recycle food in the community, says Dorward, who retired in 2015 as director after 13 years with the organization and returned as co-director last August.

Succeeding him on April 10 was Jackie Jenks, former executive director at Hospitality House in San Francisco, although he will continue to work as a volunteer on the capital campaign and development of the new facility.

Each year, the community kitchen at the Inter-Faith Council serves about 60,000 meals to people in need, while its food pantry provides about 13,000 to 14,000 bags of groceries.

Its 50-bed facility for women and children, and its facility for men, are the county’s only homeless shelters. People staying in the shelters also can get medical and dental services from the Inter-Faith Council’s clinic, which is operated by Piedmont Health Services.

The Inter-Faith Council also provides support teams of eight to 10 volunteers each that are paired with individuals — many of them preparing to leave its homeless shelters for permanent housing. The teams help them as they move to independent living.

The organization counts on contributions from individuals, congregations, foundations, businesses, government and United Way, and through special events, including RSVVP, an event each November in which 100 local restaurants contribute 10 percent of their receipts for a single day, and the Crop Hunger Walk, which was held April 23, in partnership with Church World Service.

“The safety net has got lots of holes, and we are the bottom of the safety net, and we have to turn people away,” says Dorward. “With continued support from the community, we will look to strengthen the safety net wherever possible.”

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