United Way at Work

By Wayne Howard - Staff Writer/Lincoln Herald

When we talk about the United Way of Lincoln County and the over a dozen local charitable entities that receive a part of their funding thanks to your United Way contributions, we are not telling the whole story.

Those assorted agencies are important and if that's all the United Way did, it would be worthy of your support; but each year, the United Way of Lincoln County under the leadership of Executive Director Kathy Vinzant does so much more.

One very recent example of a project the United Way has championed is the West Lincoln Resource Center and Food Pantry.

For anyone not familiar with the history, in the Spring of 2016, Vinzant and Ken Spencer, who was then pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church got together with Asbury Academy principal Mary Beth Avery. They decided that the older building there which had been replaced by a newer one could still serve a valuable purpose.

In August of that year, members of Asbury United Methodist Church and volunteers from numerous organizations, businesses and industries worked all day in what was called the United Way's "Day of Action" to turn the building into a resource center for students from all across the county.

"Some kids get bullied because of the way that they look, the clothes they wear, or the things they don't have," Vinzant told us. "We hope the clothes they can get at the ARC will help to improve their self-esteem and take the focus off what they don't have and help them improve their learning and grades."

When the Resource Center was renovated and stocked, teachers or other school personnel were invited to come pick up clothing needed for kids in their classes. In addition to clothing and shoes, the center has school supplies.

In addition to the day-to-day help provided, the Asbury ARC holds an Open House before the start of school each year when students and their families can come get clothing and supplies they might otherwise not be able to afford.

Last Fall, Vinzant visited West Lincoln and said she was surprised to see the level of poverty that existed there for some students and families. With the help of West Lincoln Middle School Principal Kristie Ballard, she decided that an unused classroom at the school could become a West Lincoln Resource Center, modeled after the one at Asbury. The two pitched the idea to the Board of Education, and they agreed; then County Commissioners gave their approval.

Vinzant told Commissioners "Food insecurity and access to basic needs due to the distance and lack of transportation to access the ARC at Asbury (on Salem Church Road) makes this necessary. We want to remove some of the barriers to help further learning. Kids can't learn if they are hungry and or lack basic needs." She told Commissioners work on the project would begin over the Christmas break and hoped to have it completed by January.

Similar to the Asbury Resource Center that opened in 2016, the new West Lincoln ARC was completed January 8th of this year.

The first step was complete--but an important second part of the mission was yet to be accomplished. Recent events (and contributions--both materially and in manpower) have pushed that part of the project forward.

Technibuilt, a Lincolnton firm that is the largest manufacturer of shopping carts and provides services for Harris Teeter, Wal-Mart, Ingles, Publix, Lowes and more was one of the contributors. Mark Brissenden, a former Leeboy employee, reached out to Karen Collins and told her about the project; and the Lincolnton branch donated five tier shelving units and four shopping carts for the Food Pantry at West. The Lincoln County Schools Maintenence Department picked up the shopping carts and shelving units.

Duke Energy is remodeling its cafeteria at the McGuire Nuclear Station, so Danial Hipps of Duke said once the new appliances--a commercial freezer and refrigerator--are delivered to McGuire, the company will deliver the old ones to West Lincoln Middle School in February.

Franky Mendez, manager of the Publix supermarket in Denver and a United Way Board Member was scheduled to visit the West Lincoln Food Pantry Tuesday morning (Jan. 28th). Publix, Vinzant told us, will be donating store re-model shelving units to West Lincoln Middle. Vinzant expressed her excitement: "It looks like we are in really good shape to have it up-fitted for the food distribution center. What we thought was going to be a May project is well on its way for possibly a Spring Break project."

She added: "Burton Farms has already been in touch and has committed to all the fresh fruit and vegetables we can manage at the pantry.

"The real work will now be for any and every business, school, church, family or individual willing to help to start collecting food, laundry soap, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, and anything else you might find in a small grocery store that would serve this community. This is not to take away from the work done by Christian Ministries, but we hope it will enhance the availability to families 'out west' where for many transportation is difficult.

"Collecting donations usually takes a leader, someone who can rally the troops to bring in items.

"For February, we're asking those who want to help to bring in items that start with "F"--fish (tuna), flour, fried rice (non-perishable mixes), fabric softener, Fab laundry detergent, French roast coffee, figs, fettuccine noodles, Fiber One cereal... Start a contest--if your name starts with F, bring in five items.

"We can arrange a pick up day each month and include a work day on this same day of the month to unload the items to a shelf.

"It is my hope that we will get support from our local farmers who might donate eggs, milk etc. (Thanks to those commercial appliances being donated by Duke Energy, we can store those items.)

"Children with insufficient diets are reported to have more problems with health, academic learning,  and psychosocial behavior. Malnutrition can result in long term neural issues in the brain which can impact a child's emotional responses, reactions and other medical complications."

Last year's United Way campaign brought in contributions of $449.988. Along with grants and direct contributions, that helped agencies like the Child Advocacy Center, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Communities in Schools, the Hesed House of Hope, Special Olympics, Salem Industries, Boy Scouts, the YMCAs in Lincolnton & Denver, A Place to Grow, the Red Cross, Senior Services and Gaston Family Health provide their important services to the community.

Of course, an important part of what was given to the United Way wasn't dollars and cents, but items like the appliances from Duke Energy and smaller items from food for the pantries to in-kind contributions like the many volunteer hours. 

Over the next several weeks, the Lincoln Herald will be highlighting some of the United Way partner agencies doing good things for our community. While you may not be able to give a large donation to United Way, your contribution will help.

The 2020 fundraising campaign to support those agencies is well underway. If you haven't already, we urge you to sign and return your pledge card or make a donation right away.