'Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked'
Tucked back into the landscape off Piney Mountain Church Road in Bostic is an outreach center providing relief for hundreds of individuals and families in the form of nutritious meals and clothing for all occasions.
Washburn Community Outreach Center (WCOC) was established in 2009 by former Salem United Methodist Church pastor Linda Ferguson and members of the congregation, who believed in being the hands and feet of Christ.
"They wanted their belief to be practical and saw this community needed the outreach center," said current pastor Tony Moreau, who has served with the church for eight months. "There is a need in our county that not many people realize. We are called by God to assist in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked."
Loosely modeled after Chase Corner United Methodist Ministries in Henrietta, WCOC attempts to meet the emergency needs of individuals and families through a food pantry and thrift store.
Last year alone, 10,685 food items and 13,730 articles of clothing were distributed.
Food items, clothing and cash donations are graciously given by individuals, church groups and civic organizations, which sustain the center's ability to provide the less fortunate with basic-support needs. Emergency home furnishings may also be provided in the event of a fire or other disaster.
"The church felt we needed something on this end of the county to assist people, especially since transportation is often an issue and it's hard for people to make it all the way across the county," said Cheryl Ledford, director of WCOC. "When I moved to this area from Winston-Salem, one of the draws to Salem United Methodist Church was its outreach center. I started volunteering at the center before I became its director because I felt I needed to do something to not focus on myself and instead help the community. We're supposed to help each other out."
In addition to donations, crisis-assistance services are made possible by local food drives and the sale of items from the WCOC thrift store. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the thrift store go to support the ministry.
Last year WCOC assisted 632 families, including 1,043 children over the age of 18 and 521 children under the age of 18.
Individuals and families seeking assistance are required to fill out an application, and eligibility is based on the information they provide. Every 60 days, those receiving assistance from the ministry pick up a box of food with breakfast, lunch and dinner items and are allowed to stop by the thrift store for three outfits for each family member.
"Right now the thrift store carries clothing, household goods and small appliances. We do not have the storage area for large furniture items yet," Ledford said. "Damaged clothes and items are frequently picked up by Williams Medical Textiles, Inc. and recycled for people who need them, sometimes as far as overseas."
The thrift store is open three days a week, Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Across from the building is a donation room that is open 24 hours a day.
At the end of each season, WCOC holds a clothing giveaway to make room for new seasonal inventory. The outreach center also offers a variety of assistance programs throughout the year for school children and families. In 2013 WCOC gave out school supplies to more than 100 kids, provided a hot Thanksgiving meal for nearly 60 families and collaborated with East Rutherford High School and Sunshine Elementary School to assist six families in having a memorable Christmas.
"Our volunteers here are amazing, some are dedicated volunteers while others come and help when they can," Ledford said.
Volunteers Anne and Bob Billingsley, who live in Bostic and are members of Salem United Methodist Church, have assisted the outreach center since its establishment.
"We like volunteering because of the people and the fellowship," Anne Billingsley said. "We are able to meet and help several people in need who come by the center. You receive a lot more blessings than you could ever give."
"It absolutely feels like we make a difference," Bob Billingsley said. "We didn't realize there were so many people in need until we started doing this."
Volunteers also include students from area schools earning community service and McNair hours, as well as participants in the Division of Social Services Work First program. North Carolina's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, called Work First, is based on the premise that parents have a responsibility to support themselves and their children. Through the program, parents can get short-term training and other services to help them become employed and self-sufficient.
"WCOC does have to have limits on what it provides so that we can help more people and as many as we can," Moreau said. "We are working toward expanding what we do here so we can provide even more assistance. As part of that, we are continuously looking for sources of revenue through grants, donations and the like."
Looking to the future, Moreau said the outreach center would love to partner with other organizations interested in being involved, whether financially, through volunteering or by supporting programs. The center is also interested in providing future poverty workshops so families can see how poverty is generational, and working with the school system to assist less fortunate kids with continuing their education beyond poverty.
"It can be an issue of pride for many people to come in here, but we provide for people non-judgementally and try to put ourselves in their shoes when they are experiencing unemployment, a disaster or any hardship," Ledford said.
"We have to keep in mind that we could all be one paycheck away from needing assistance," Moreau added.
Washburn Community Outreach CenterAddress: 2934 Piney Mountain Church Road in Bostic
Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.