Share the Table feeds those in need in Pender and Onslow counties, and the need is growing.
For most of us, it’s difficult to imagine days on end without a meal in front of us at the table. And that’s exactly why Dawn Ellis founded Share the Table 10 years ago.
“A friend and I had been talking for years about doing a free community meal at Faith Harbor [United Methodist], and then God kept putting it on my heart to stop wasting time and do it,” Ellis says.
Today, the faith-based Share the Table nonprofit is supported by seven charter churches, community churches, civic organizations and local businesses in Pender and Onslow counties to provide free community meals, a food pantry and ongoing school backpack programs for thousands.
“This is definitely my passion: getting food to the people who need it,” says Ellis, who serves as the nonprofit’s executive director.
That need has dramatically increased over the last few months with the onslaught of COVID-19. In fact, according to Ellis, Share the Table’s distribution has increased by 62 percent.
Additional changes caused by the pandemic because of safety issues include a switch to a drive-through food pantry service at two area locations for those in need and their Sunday community meals given out in takeout boxes rather than a sit-down setting.
One service that remained constant over the summer was Share the Table’s MUNCH (Meals Until No Child Hungers) Backpack distribution. They distributed 135 backpacks bi-weekly. Each backpack is stuffed with nutritious, child-friendly food for students enrolled at all three Topsail elementary schools and Topsail Middle School.
“Now that school is back on a hybrid schedule, our plan is to get them to the kids at school in the middle of the week,” Ellis says. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to deliver them ourselves so we make sure the kids get the food.”
The Share the Table pantry is stocked with (and always welcomes more) produce, fruit, canned goods, meat and more. The organization is currently dedicated to focusing on offering healthier, diabetic-sensitive and gluten-free options for clients as well.
Ellis shares that in the United States, there are 37.2 million people who are food insecure. According to Feeding America, the average food insecurity rate across the country is 11.5 percent. In the nonprofit’s service area of Pender and Onslow counties, however, rates are higher than the national average. Pender County is at 13.6 percent, and Onslow County is at 15.2 percent. Feeding America forsees an increase in food insecurity rates during the pandemic to 19.1 percent for Pender and 21.5 percent for Onslow.
To combat those numbers, Share the Table partners with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and picks up food weekly from Walmart, Publix and Harris Teeter.
“That relationship is wonderful,” Ellis says.
Monetary and food donations are always helpful and welcomed, of course. They’ve also initiated an Adopt-a-Shelf program in which local businesses or groups can pick one food item to keep stocked on a regular basis, either weekly or monthly.
Another of their needs is, Ellis says, is grant writers willing to work pro bono.
“One thing we’ve actually been so blessed with is volunteers at this organization
— that’s never been a problem for us,” she says. “It’s amazing to see the people who are willing to support our cause.”
With the oncoming holiday season and threat of a high-level pandemic recurrence, the need for donations is even greater.
“Many of our clients who were already struggling are now unemployed,” Ellis says. “They either worked a full-time job or several part-time jobs in positions barely at minimum wage and now have no income, so we are seeing clients we have not seen in over a year and completely new clients. Any support is greatly appreciated!”
Can you help or do you need help?
For more information on how to volunteer or donate to Share the Table or to use their pantry, child backpack or community meal services, visit http://sharethetablenc.org or call (910) 616-8897. Share the Table is located at 12395 N.C. Highway 50 in Hampstead.