Bryce Weblog


Alamance County aid organizations face challenges but remain united in their fight against poverty

By Bryce Little                                     December 1, 2008

Cars are lined up outside of Loaves and Fishes food distribution center. The volunteer’s breath rises and dissipates into the thin autumn air. The cars push forward little by little waiting for the call to come in and receive their monthly allotment of food. Volunteers rifle through the food pantry, loading up bags with canned fruit, cereal, milk and other essentials.

Brenda Allen, the executive director of Loaves and Fishes, directs everyone to their places. Some continue to load food, others step outside to control traffic. The line of cars snakes around the building.

Canned food lines the walls of the Loaves and Fishes food distribution Center.

Canned food lines the walls of the Loaves and Fishes food distribution Center.

The first car is brought inside. The trunk opens and several bags of groceries are placed inside. For some people waiting in line, this is the only food they will be able to have until they come back next month to do the process all over again.

Loaves and Fishes is just one of many Alamance County aid organizations focused on getting the needed essentials to those who would not otherwise be able to afford them. More than 143,000 people live in Alamance County and around 15,000 of those people live below the poverty level. For a county with no real metropolitan center this is a large number of people.

Organizations such as the Allied churches of Alamance County (ACAC), Salvation Army and Loaves and Fishes have come together to help create an organized poverty relief initiative. This initiative has helped Alamance County combat problems such as hunger, homelessness, lack of transportation and overdue bills.

While the county is still a long way from solving the dilemma of poverty, the steps taken by these organizations have laid a foundation to give the needy in Alamance County a chance to succeed.

Transportation

There are several main problems facing Alamance County when it comes to distributing the services to those who need them. Transportation seems to be the largest obstacle when it comes helping out those less fortunate. It is hard for the people who need help to get to the aid organization’s location in downtown Burlington.  According to most organization’s, transportation is the biggest problem, and possibly the hardest one to fix.

“When people have no money they tend not to have a car, they tend not to have gas, they tend not to have money for a taxi,” said Allen. “One of the largest problems is transportation. The area here is a depressed area, its not like Greensboro where you can get a job that pays a higher wage.”

There is currently a transportation system set up in Alamance County called ACTA, but it does not run regular routes and can cost $7 one way. For many families paying $14 for transportation to go to and from work would be a substantial financial burden.

“You need a family member to come pick you up or just grin and bear it and walk,” said Kenneth Coombs. He currently does not have a car and thinks public transportation is necessary in the Burlington area. Coombs is currently homeless and living at the Allied Churches homeless shelter.poverty

“Burlington ain’t no small town anymore. If you think about it, 25 years ago you could see the whole town of Burlington in a day’s time,” said Coombs.

Unfortunately for those in need of aid in Burlington, the town has grown at a rapid rate. Alamance County has seen a 9.1 percent rise in population since 2000.

Alamance County had a transportation system back in the 70’s but it was shut down in 1978 due to financial problems. The Hayden Harman Foundation (HHF) is one organization trying to bring back the system. HHF  a nonprofit based out of Burlington. It has made dramatic progress towards developing a transportation system in Alamance County.

The HHF started in 2000 and gives away around $500,000 per year to local aid organizations. It give money to help fund scholarships and early literacy programs at Alamance Community College. It have also donated money to help Loaves and Fishes buy a new building that better fits their needs.

Patrick Harman is an Elon University adjunct professor and the owner and operator of the foundation.

Harman is a lead member in the Public Transportation Task Force . PTTF is a group created to gather support for bringing a transportation system to Alamance County. They hold lunches and travel to communities to get information about the effects public transportation would have on the county. Harman says that if he were to have a bus ride from his home in Greensboro to his office in Burlington he would save around $4,000 per year.

The stigma surrounding public transportation is also something the PTTF is trying to dispel.

“I’m trying to get people to think differently about it,” said Harman. “The attitude about public transportation is that it’s for ‘those’ people rather than it’s for all of us.”

Finding Funding

Funding is also a massive problem facing the aid organizations of Alamance County. Loaves and Fishes serves nearly 1,600 families and donated nearly $8 million worth of food in 2007. It can be difficult for organizations to raise enough money and supplies to keep up with demand. In such a small area, there are very few revenue sources for these organizations.

“Every year everyone faces the funding problem,” said Allen. “We are an area in need and everyone is asking the same folks for the same money.”

With a huge Christian population in Alamance County, churches provide a large portion of volunteers and donors. There are over 720 churches in Alamance County and the majority of them, in some capacity, help support each aid organization. Along with churches are area schools, grocery stores, the Alamance County Junior League and the Hayden Harman Foundation.

Members of the Alamance County Junior League help the house chef at Allied Churches of Alamance County

Members of the Alamance County Junior League help the house chef at Allied Churches of Alamance County.

According to many aid organizations, the recent economic crisis has hit Alamance County quite hard. Donors are finding it more difficult to find the money to donate.

“It puts a squeeze on them,” said Jim Barbour, an economy professor at Elon University. “The demand for their services has increased. There will be more people in the situation where they need assistance, and at the same time their ability to provide those services will decrease because those further up the economic ladder are less likely to contribute to these organizations.”

The economy has also caused more people to lose their jobs and cut back on how much they are willing to pay for food and amenities, so while the volume of money being donated is decreasing, the volume of people requiring help from these organizations is rising.

“With the stock market the way it’s been, we are not only going to see more people coming in for assistance because of loss of jobs and higher fuel prices and higher food prices, but we are also going to see less donations because people have less money to play with,” said Allen.

The Salvation Army of Burlington is another organization that gives families food. the organizations has found the supply almost completely depleted. The small room is almost barren, only cans of green beans remain on the shelves. Unlike Loaves and Fishes, who has a close relationship with stores like Food Lion and Harris Teeter, The Salvation Army is almost completely dependent on the donations from individuals to keep the shelves stocked.

“We had to help people with no money and no food stamps,” said Robin Drummond, a social worker for the Salvation Army. She has recently started to turn away families that make some income but need money for food. “If I don’t have any food I can’t give it. I am trying to keep what little I have to help people who have nothing.”

Food is not the only thing that the Salvation Army needs.

“This is the worst year we have had so far,” said Drummond, the head contact for The Salvation Army and someone that works frequently with clients to get them food and utilities. She thumbs through around 100 note cards with names of the people who have signed up to ask for assistance within the past three months.

The amount of food being distributed at Loaves and Fishes is up- way-up. They have seen a 1,000 person increase within the last month. The amount of groceries that are given away each week costs around $10,000, and there is not enough money for Loaves and Fishes to purchase their own food.

The Hayden Harmon Foundation has also seen its funds diminished.

Harman believes that this economic crisis will be a lot worse than the dot-com burst.

“We will probably be giving away less money next year,” said Harman. “When we had the dot-com bust in 2001 a lot of foundations were caught flatfooted with their commitments and they had to lay people off and change multi-year agreements.”

With less money being contributed, the aid organizations will inevitably revert back to the basics: food, clothing and shelter. Programs that provide job training and special needs assistance will be cut back to take care of those who need immediate assistance.

“The important is crowded out by the urgent,” said Barbour. “If you can either teach four people job skills or feed 30 people, you obviously stop teaching the job skills and feed the 30 that are there.”

“During a downturn your funding disappears and you are for left having to make these type of choices,” said Barbour.

Elon University students pack boxes of food at Loaves and Fishes

Elon University students pack boxes of food at Loaves and Fishes

The cancellations of programs that could help diminish poverty in the future could be a devastating blow for the community. This could inevitably lead to an increase in chronic poverty in the Alamance County area.

While these are trying economic times for most people and organizations in Alamance County, the social network created by the aid organizations has been holding steady and is still able to cover most of the main symptoms of poverty.

It is the mission of each of the aid organizations to work together, and by themselves, to make sure that problems like homelessness and hunger don’t get overlooked.

“We all know each other and we all try and know what each is doing,” said Drummond, talking about her work with other aid organizations. “We just work well together. I think in this community it is an asset.”

While not everyone in the county can be helped, most aid organizations work with each other to make sure that the most people are given as much aid as possible. If Loaves and Fishes is unable to help a family, it can often be referred to the Salvation Army. Each organization has the same checks and balances relationship with one another.

Each organization is also attempting to help a wide variety of needs. There is a vast array of people around Alamance County who need help. whether it is a family that has come up a little short in the month’s rent, or it could be as large as needing several thousand dollars to cover medical expenses so a family would not be plunged into insurmountable debt.

Loaves and Fishes, Salvation Army, ACAC and many more aid organizations have made it possible for the less fortunate residents of Alamance County to have assistance with their basic needs. With 37.3 million people living in poverty in the United States, these types of organizations are more essential now than ever.

“If they have someone to care about them it would make them want to change their life and have hope for a better life,” said Drummond. “This is not a hand out. What we do makes them feel like there is hope, they are someone and they don’t have to live in poverty.”

More about Alamance County aid organizations

Loaves and Fishes

Allied Churches of AlamanceCounty

Salvation Army

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One Response to 'Alamance County aid organizations face challenges but remain united in their fight against poverty'

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  1. Janna said,

    Bryce, it is really exciting to see how far your multimedia reporting has come over the course of the semester. You have a lot of great content here, and it will serve as a wonderful portfolio piece for you. You took advantage of the opportunity to do thorough reporting that can make a difference in people’s lives, and that is the essence of good journalism.

    You still have some spelling and mechanics problems. One I will point out for you to fix is right here at the end of your story, where you spelled Alamance wrong in the Allied Churches listing in the links to More about Alamance County aid organizations.

    Because of the overload of content I am assessing right now, I won’t be giving you more input. But that’s OK, because potential employers will know that this is all 100 percent your own work, without any outside editor


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