November 10, 2021
We have started a three month period in which we’ll have just three distributions per month. This is all because of holidays. So far things are going very smoothly, and we have begun distributing our Thanksgiving turkey breasts. The other pantry directors with whom we have talked have all seen lower numbers of clients this past year, but are seeing those numbers starting back up. I believe that is what we will see as well.
I wanted to keep you up to date on our building. The Board has authorized hiring an engineering firm (Mattern & Craig from Johnson City, TN) to do a survey and begin the process of site planning, soil analysis, etc. This will be necessary, no matter what we do or when. Jo-Ann and I met with Richardson Builders (Elizabethton, TN) last week. The building, as we had laid it out (10,500 sq ft plus an enclosed drive-thru and loading dock), would cost just under 1.6 million dollars. The excavation and site prep will probably be $200-250,000. Factoring in the price of land and some additional equipment, that would make the total price right around two million dollars. Building costs are high right now, but we don’t know how quickly they may drop back. We’re going to take two approaches. We are going to begin looking for grant opportunities, while we solicit other proposals. At the same time I’m going to try to redraw our plan, removing approximately a fourth of the heated and air conditioned space, to see what that might save. We want to be sure that we are using every bit of the new space as efficiently as possible, while still providing opportunities for future growth. We have asked Phillip Barrier (Avery County Manager) to help us find demographic information about Avery County over the past ten years, to try to predict what level of demand we’ll be facing going forward.
Obviously, this is a lot of money, and is more than we had hoped to face. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can return to Client Choice in our current location, and I don’t see a way to continue growing our outreach efforts where we are. So, please, stay tuned. It’s going to be exciting, and, together, with God’s help, we can do almost anything! Godspeed, my friends. Thanks
April 12, 2021
It seems like a long time since we’ve talked, and I think has been. FAF is doing very well, as we begin looking at emergence from COVID, and I wanted to share some thoughts. We had our biggest months ever during November and December, and we were looking feverishly for some place with more space, and, particularly, more parking. So far, we haven’t been successful in that search. We don’t think the old Lowes grocery store will work. We estimate it will take around a million dollars to get it back to operating condition, and we’d still be left with a 41 year-old, flat roof, that will surely leak again. Fortunately, our numbers have backed off considerably since the first of the year, so there is much less pressure to move right now. We are continuing to look for land or, potentially, a building that might suit our needs, but in a much more relaxed fashion.
We anticipate remaining with our current “Drive-Thru” distributions until the CDC and the Governor give us clearance to resume face-to-face interactions inside. Then I expect we’ll develop a hybrid system, with morning Client Choice and afternoon Drive-Thru, thus sparing problems with parking for the Barbecue restaurant and Radio Shack. We have established a pantry at Lees-McRae, which we will keep stocked, in conjunction with LMC students and staff. We will be partnering with the Y to place a new Community Pantry near there, as soon as Nick Daniels and his high school carpentry class reconvenes in the Fall, and can build it for us.
We have a very active Summer feeding program developing, serving probably 300-400 students, through three different programs in the schools and a program through the Y. We are awaiting the delivery of our new van, which will be integral for all these program deliveries. Hopefully we’ll have it, with graphics applied, before the end of this month. Thank you HCCF and AMY Wellness!
Thanks to all of you who have volunteered, donated and just generally lifted out spirits, we are good. The future remains uncertain, but, thanks to all of you, our resolve remains firm and our future bright. Vaccinations continue moving forward with ever-increasing momentum. The light is ever-brighter. Please, stay safe and be well. Godspeed, my friends.
January 2, 2021
Happy New Year to all. I don’t think anyone would disagree that we’re looking for a better year to come, than the one we just left behind. I see no need to summarize all the incredible things that happened this past year, as I somehow imagine they’re indelibly printed in each of our memories. But here we are, and we can see light. We’ve still got a few very tough months to get through, but, together, we will. For the last two months we have served approximately 630 families a month, or more than 1,600 individuals with 800 boxes of food. This year we have received 746,000 pounds of food, roughly 50% more than 2019. Just amazing. With all that the pandemic has thrown at us, you have persevered, without complaint, and maintained the course. You are an incredible blessing.
January will be another three-distribution month, and, probably just as busy as the last two. We’ve been getting complaints from both of our neighbors, Carolina Barbeque and Radio Shack. I think we need to change our traffic pattern. From now on we will line cars up in the road in front of Riverwalk Pizza and Mountain Heritage Systems. I have been talking with our friends at the Sheriff’s Department, and they will provide a couple of deputies for each of our January distributions, to help us set up and run the new traffic flow. I’m sure there will be issues with this approach, but I think it will give us the best chance to keep everyone fairly happy, and continue our food services. This will also keep cars from being out in the road in front of the shopping center, which should be safer.
We all have a great deal to be thankful for. Thanks be to God, and all of you. Godspeed, my friends.
December 21, 2020
Our numbers keep increasing. On Friday we served 248 families with 313 boxes of food. For December that means we served 634 families with over 800 boxes of food. Those of you who were here know that, on Friday, the temperature never made it out of the 20s and the wind never stopped. What a group you are! Just amazing.
We have had an incredible and certainly remarkable year. Your response to all the uncertainty, changing demands and requirements, while just trying to figure out how to live, has been simply extraordinary. In the book of Matthew we read: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I believe the yoke is easy because God specifically prepares each of us for it, and the burden is light because it is shared by so many helpful, uplifting hands. I know I am certainly lifted up by all of you. Thanks be to God, and all of you. Godspeed, my friends.
Next distribution is January 8, 2021.
November 22, 2020
We are closing out November, and nothing has slowed down! We served 228 families this past week, for a total of 628 for the month. Last year that number was 533. We see little reason to think things will slow down during December and January. Fortunately, our funding is sound, our food supply is steady and our volunteers are simply and consistently fantastic. With Thanksgiving coming, we have a great deal for which to be thankful. Certainly, those of us who have, at least so far, avoided contracting COVID, we are blessed. With the exciting, good news about vaccines, perhaps we can begin vaccinations early in 2021. We will be lobbying to have FAF volunteers high on the priority list, as I truly think they should be.
We have ordered our new van, which should be here in about three months. We plan to start providing personal and feminine hygiene products in our Community Pantries by the beginning of the year. We will extend that to our FAF distributions when we are able to resume Client Choice. We are also working out a system to deliver food to the children who are in need, but are at home because of COVID. That, too, we hope to start in January. Please, remember that we have no delivery or distribution this week. A well-deserved week off for Thanksgiving!
But, for now, thanks so much to all of you. We have gone through (and are going through) a time of great uncertainty, but you have made everything work. Together we are incredibly strong. Stay safe and be well. Godspeed, my friends.
November 9, 2020
Wow! Or is it Whew! Those of you who get Larry’s distribution report know that we served 205 families with 267 food boxes on Friday. Actually, there were even a couple more that we couldn’t record. We knew these months with just three distributions would be busy, and were we ever right! When I talk about FAF I always refer to the fact that we have the best group of volunteers in the world, but this week they were even beyond that. Not a complaint. Not a cross word. Just constant, hard work, then more of it. Everybody was tired, yet collegiality and love ruled. We are so blessed. The only downside is that we’ll be doing this each month through January. And we will.
We have some exciting news about grants. The High Country Charitable Foundation, in concert with AMY Wellness, is awarding us a $50,000 grant to purchase a van for our mobile services programs. Dogwood Health Trust is awarding us $5,200 to support a new program to distribute personal hygiene items through our Community Pantries. We have applied for an additional $2,500 through a special philanthropy course at Lees McRae, taught by President Lee King. He was kind enough to invite me to talk with the students about what we do. Now three of those students are putting together a grant proposal on our behalf. We will use those monies for personal hygiene items, to help us get this program started. We want to continue this through FAF, as soon as we resume client choice.
These are exciting, exhausting times. It is by leaning on each other that we thrive. Jim Swinkola has mentioned to me that Kiwanis is looking for members. If anyone among you is interested in joining this fantastic organization, FAF will be happy to pay the dues to have you represent us. We would likewise, love to have someone represent us at Rotary of Avery County. Just let me know of your interest, and I’ll get your name to the appropriate people.
This is a time when we are particularly cognizant of giving thanks, and, for all of you, I certainly do. Individually we can do so little, but together, the mountains are ours to move. Stay safe and be well. Godspeed, my friends.
October 4, 2020
Fall has arrived, but COVID hasn’t left! We still don’t know what the government might do, but our demand remains high. We have been incredibly blessed with very supportive donors, enthusiastic volunteers and phenomenal support from MANNA. Because of all of those things, we are able to keep reaching out to some of our very desperate friends and neighbors. Over the next few months our demand will grow, while many of our seasonal volunteers will be returning to much flatter and warmer places. If any of you were considering volunteering but thought you weren’t needed during the Summer, please put that concern behind you. We will need people on Thursday mornings (~ 9 to 12) and Fridays (anytime between 9 AM and 3 PM). There’s plenty of work with records, packing bags and boxes, as well as loading cars. Whatever your physical capabilities, we can use you. Read about volunteering with us & sign up.
Many of you know that Jo-Ann has been promoted to Co-Director. I think that means that, whatever lack of respect I get, she should receive as well! Seriously, we are, and particularly I am, incredibly fortunate to have her with us. She will be, much as she has been, organizing volunteers and directing our internal operations. We will be having some young people from the First Things Foundation, Union Presbyterian Seminary and Lees-McRae College join us over the next few months. They will be doing some specific projects, but we may be able to convince them of the value of lifting a few boxes along the way. We will welcome them, as well as inviting them to enjoy the value of collegial, collaborative effort. We have a lot to share. Thanks to all of you. Together, we are truly blessed. Thanks be to God.
September 3, 2020
It’s hard to believe it’s September already. Happy Labor Day! I had thought to let you know where things stand at FAF, roughly six months into COVID-19. FAF is doing very well. We’ve adapted to “Drive-Thru Distributions”, which I anticipate continuing until community-wide vaccinations are available. I can’t imagine that being before next Spring. That does mean we’ll have some cold folks in the parking lot this Winter. Imagine, though, how cold it will be in an unheated, leaky house with no food. We’ll be fine. We’re currently serving anywhere from 100 to 150 families a week, with wild fluctuations. With the uncertainty surrounding any possible additional government assistance, we expect to stay quite busy, at least for the rest of the year. We are now distributing a total of approximately 55,000 pounds of food a month!
Our Community Pantries are doing very well. We now have six, and they’re all being utilized. We’re stocking them roughly twice a week and are going through around 5,000 pounds of food a month. I expect that figure to double over the next year.
The Community Markets, our partnership with Avery County Schools and MANNA, are going very well. We’re serving 160-175 families a month, with nearly 13,000 pounds of food.
School has restarted, and, therefore, our backpack and in-school pantries are getting underway. We currently have 117 children signed up, and anticipate more to come. We are concerned about the children not in school, and their dietary needs. We’re looking into delivering food to some of them, as well as some of our clients who can’t get to our center. In that vein, we have applied for a grant to help us buy a van for food transportation. If we get that, we’ll be looking for folks who might be interested in helping with our mobile services.
Finally, we haven’t given up on our ideas for a Community Health Initiative, to help some of our sickest, neediest people improve their diets, improve their health and well-being while reducing the cost of their health care. We can’t do much with that until the COVID restrictions are lifted, but we have the space. It is slowly being renovated. Hopefully by next year we’ll be ready to go.
All of this is, of course, only possible because of you. Our volunteers have been incredibly faithful. Our donors continue to be generous in their support, giving us confidence that, whatever happens, we can help those who come to our doors. MANNA has had its share of struggles, but has remained steadfast in providing ever-more food. Though the selection has sometimes been limited, we have never been without. Thanks be to God, and all of you.
July 15, 2020
As most of you undoubtedly know, the number of COVID-19 cases in Avery County continues to grow. So far, we’ve had no cases among our volunteer family. Jo-Ann and I have been in discussion with the Avery County Health Department, and they are happy with all of the measures we are taking. They do feel, however, that we should be screening for symptoms and measuring temperatures each time we gather. This will put us in line with many large employers, as well as our schools, when they open this Fall. We’ve ordered an infra-red thermometer, and will begin this program as soon as it arrives. That may be as soon as this Friday (Jul 17). Chris Zimmer has been kind enough to volunteer to do this for us.
Schools will be reopening in some fashion on August 17. At that time we will resume providing backpacks and stocking in-school pantries. In the mean-time we will continue our home deliveries to ~ 75 students every Thursday. Our partners from the First Things Foundation will be doing this through July. We are going to need help with the two deliveries in August (Aug 6 & 13). If there are any of you who might be able to help with this, please let us know. We’ll try to arrange for you to accompany the FTF crew during one of their July deliveries, so that you can learn the routes and drop-off points.
As always, thank you so much for your incredibly positive help, support and flexibility. Together we are getting this done. We are the hands of God.
June 28, 2020
Things remain steady at FAF, though Avery County continues to report a slowly increasing number of COVID-19 cases. Our client volume fluctuates week to week. I anticipate we’ll probably see a further uptick later this summer with the rising number of cases and the end of some of the federal stimulus funds. Starting this coming month (July 2020), we will be changing our distribution hours. We will continue to distribute each of the first four Fridays of each month. We will be starting at 9:30 AM, and going until 11:30. We will resume at 1 PM and be open until 3 PM. With all of our pre-packing, we simply don’t need so much time to do the distributions. This will also mean less time for our volunteers to be standing outside during inclement weather. Thanks to all of you for your phenomenal support. We are, indeed, blessed. In our best moments we are instruments of God’s peace and love.
May 24, 2020
Just a brief update to let you know that all goes well with FAF. Our distributions are going so smoothly that we’re talking about shortening some of the hours. I’ll let you know when anything is decided, but we have a lot of idle time, and I don’t want to waste volunteer efforts. Please remember that this Friday (May 29) is the fifth Friday in May, and we, therefore, will not have a distribution. We will be receiving a food delivery from MANNA on Thursday (May 28), but even that will be shortened somewhat, as we won’t have to do so much packing.
We will be partnering with our friends at the Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Crossnore, to host our sixth Community Pantry, probably within the next two weeks. We will be using a storage building in their parking lot until we can get our own building built, in conjunction with the high school carpentry class, taught by Nick Daniels. We are excited to make new friends and begin new initiatives.
As we move through the phases of reopening our economy, we will remain careful to protect both our volunteers and our clients. At this point I don’t see resuming Client Choice until a vaccine is available. Despite its drawbacks, our current system is efficient, effective and relatively safe. We are blessed to be able to continue to work, laugh and serve together. Thanks be to God.
May 17, 2020
I pray that each of you is safe and well. As you may know, so far Avery County has still not recorded a confirmed case of COVID-19. There is a lot of discussion about working through the Governor’s stages of re-opening public facilities. I think FAF should err on the side of caution. Our “Drive-Thru” Distributions are going very well. Though the number of clients we serve on any given Friday varies, I think we would be stressed to accommodate them all right now, if we returned to Client Choice. We certainly plan to do that, but, for the time being, we will continue with the drive-thru, trying to protect both our clients and our volunteers. That being said, I expect that Carolina Barbeque will reopen for on-site dining this coming Friday (May 22). For those of you who will be helping with our distribution that day, please park in the old Lowe’s Grocery Store parking lot. We’ll try to protect as many parking spaces as we can for our business neighbors.
We are working on arrangements to deliver food to school children and their families who are in need, over the Summer. We have been partnering with Avery County Schools to deliver food weekly, in place of the backpack program. The buses will cease to operate at the end of scheduled school year. We are looking to our friends in the First Things Foundation to help with transportation and delivery. Our partners at the Y have offered the use of one of their vans and a driver. We will be delivering meals prepared by the ACS kitchen staff, as well as boxes of food we will receive from MANNA, on a weekly basis. Please welcome Eleanor Burch, who has recently joined our FTF team.
Last Thursday our Community Market, a partnership among FAF, MANNA and Avery County Schools, served nearly 230 families. One of our Board members, Tammy Woodie, coordinates this entire project. We have people from all parts of Avery County pitching in to help. It’s a wonderful, collaborative effort, and very well received. Prior to March we were serving just 75 families a month!
We are about to set up our sixth Community Pantry, in Crossnore. I will be meeting with the session of the Fellowship Presbyterian Church this coming Wednesday evening to discuss arrangements. Their pastor, Lonnie Barnes, contacted me and indicated they would love to host this outreach project in partnership with us. How good it is to have friends!
All in all, we’re doing all right. We have food. We have wonderful volunteers, and we’ve had people and organizations step up to help us with funding. Thanks be to God and to all of you.
April 26, 2020
I hope you are all safe and well. For most of us these times are about keeping the ship afloat and moving forward, and that is certainly true at FAF. So far, we are holding up, thanks to our fantastic volunteers, generous donors and our wonderful partners at MANNA. Since most of our routines have changed, I thought it might be helpful to review what we are doing, and what help may be needed.
We continue to receive food on Thursday mornings, starting at 9:30. The pallets are broken down and food placed on shelves. At the same time we are packing produce into bags and non-perishable food into boxes. We can always use volunteers for these packing tasks, and some of you come in around 11:30 just to do that. On Fridays, during our distributions, we don’t, at present, have the client choice roles. Instead we have people inside packing bags and boxes, people in the Annex transcribing info onto TEFAP forms and people outside directing traffic, checking clients in and loading cars. We can always use help with any of these tasks. Please sign up online, if you are able to help.
On Monday mornings, since the schools are closed, we don’t deliver backpacks. Instead the school buses come by FAF, and we load them with Family Food Boxes and Produce, which we get from MANNA. We have help from our school counselors, their families and some of our volunteers. At present we have all the help we need for this. When the schools reopen, probably in the Fall, we will go back to delivering backpacks.
We have people restocking our five Community Pantries daily (Kent Willard and Juliana and Iain Thorp), and we are beginning plans to add an additional pantry in Crossnore. These pantries, quite predictably, are seeing much more use now.
Finally, we are thrilled to welcome the members of the First Things Foundation, an international non-profit, dedicated to helping people in indigent areas improve their lives. They will be organizing a system to deliver food and medicines to people in need. They have come from around the world to help, and we are blessed to have them. Many of you have met Daniel Padrnos, as well as Juliana and Iain Thorp. Recent arrivals include Nick and Morgan Padrnos, Eileen Maiocco, Anna Cunningham and Austin Klise. As soon as their self-isolation period is over, they will be joining our efforts as volunteers, as well as working on deliveries. If you know of young people who might like to join them, please let us know and we’ll pass along their names.
If you have any reusable grocery bags you can do without, please bring them in. Chris Zimmer has been putting together wonderful, welcome bags for new clients, but we’re now out of bags. Welcome bags and stuffed animals are great ways to make sometimes uncomfortable people feel loved.
We are richly blessed because of all of you. Please take care of yourselves and those you love. Godspeed, my friends.