The last year has been eventful for many nonprofits, but particularly for Chatham’s CORA Food Pantry. The Pittsboro-based pantry helped 900 new families over the past year and distributed more than 1.1 million meals.
This week, the News + Record sat down with Executive Director Melissa Driver Beard to talk about CORA’s yearly progress, as well as the organization’s plans for the future.
For those unfamiliar with CORA, remind us of your core mission and exactly what it is you provide in terms of food and assistance.
CORA provides nutritious food to community members facing food insecurity, and envisions a community without hunger.
We embrace a culture where all individuals are treated with respect and equality, and we are committed to safeguarding their dignity and self-esteem by continuously taking actions that demonstrate genuine care, concern, and support. We operate by following strong ethical and moral standards to ensure that CORA’s mission is achieved with fairness, compassion, and effectiveness.
• Compassion & Respect — recognizing each community member’s innate dignity
• Collaboration & Cooperation — engaging a network of community members, organizations, and partners
• Diversity & Multiculturalism — recognizing the diverse cultural and individual needs in our community
• Education & Prevention — working to understand, prevent, and eradicate the causes of hunger
• Stewardship & Sustainability — being responsible stewards of all of our resources
What’s most notable for you about the past year?
For us at CORA, as we move into a new fiscal year, we begin to reflect and reconsider. My reflections lead me to a place of gratitude and thanks. I hope we thank the community often enough. Without you — volunteers, board members, donors, partners, and clients — we wouldn’t be able to effectively work to achieve our goal of creating a community without hunger! You each play a pivotal role in CORA’s success.
I’m so grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who have donated over 9,200 hours to CORA in the past year. These hours add up to just shy of five full-time staff positions! And these volunteers help us meet diverse demands on a daily basis.
We also owe thanks to our clients, without whom we simply wouldn’t be needed. And while we all hope for the day when hunger is no longer an issue, we must now thank those who place their trust in us to provide them with nutrition. Trust is fragile, and I am grateful that the individuals and families we serve know that we at CORA do all we can to provide them with a dignified experience.
How have the needs of the community changed?
We carefully track demographics in order to better meet the needs of those we serve. As such, we know that 38% of the people who visit CORA each year are members of the LatinX community. That number has increased by approximately 10% of the last two years. We have been working hard to get the word out about CORA’s services and easy registration process. In order to better meet the needs of those we serve within the LatinX community, we are also working hard to provide culturally appropriate foods, including more fresh produce.
We’ve known for some time most of the people coming to CORA for assistance for food come from outside of Pittsboro. In fact, 69% of the people who visit us come to CORA from the western part of Chatham County. As such, expansion into the western part of the county is now part of CORA’s strategic plan. We currently host one of our mobile markets in Siler City each month — the 4th Tuesday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon on Technology Way. We have also recently hosted two pop-up markets at the Siler City Policy Department.
CORA recently established a relationship with Love Chatham through which Love Chatham operates a satellite pantry at their Holly Street location every other Saturday. We have long standing partnerships with the Salvation Army, Chatham Trades, El Camino Church, and a number of schools for whom we provide support for the backpack program. Over the next 18 to 24 months, CORA plans to ramp up our work in Siler City and beyond in order to better serve people facing food and nutrition insecurity.
What’s on the horizon for CORA?
CORA’s next “big thing” has been our next “big thing” for quite a while. The county broke ground on CORA’s new site, located just beside our building on Camp Drive, in February 2021. There have been a few pandemic and supply chain related delays, but we hope to move in and offer choice shopping once again by January 2023. It will take us some time to operate “like a well-oiled machine” once we are in the new building.
Once again, just like in March of 2020, we will be forced to re-think every aspect of our operations from the registration and waiting area to shopping and stocking to the intake of food donations. It will take us a while to achieve “well-oiled” status again. The thought of starting over is a bit daunting, but also exciting. I believe all of us are trying to forget the ways we’ve always done things for the sake of trying out new methods. For example, we’ll implement a SWAP, a stoplight nutrition system designed to help promote healthy food choices at food banks and food pantries. SWAP ranks food based on levels of saturated fat, sodium and sugars because these nutrients are linked with increased risk of chronic diseases. We’re especially excited about the opportunities SWAP brings us as we strive to ensure better nutrition for those we serve.
We have partnered with the UNC School of Nursing to focus on health and nutrition, too. Students and instructors from the School of Nursing will be at CORA on Mondays this fall to offer individuals free health assessments. Based upon identified health conditions, they can offer advice on healthy food choices available at the Pantry.
At one time during the pandemic, your volunteers were limited because of social distancing and you had lots of other restrictions and challenges. What protocols from that time did you keep in place?
Thankfully, volunteers are back in full force! On any given day, there may be between 15-30 volunteers in and out of CORA. We’ve continued to monitor the CDC guidelines and continue to follow those. Our policy is this: CORA follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concerning COVID-19. As long as Chatham County has a high COVID-19 community level, we will require masks inside. We also follow the guidelines:
• Masking is a critical public health tool, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.
• Wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.
• Wearing a well-fitted mask along with vaccination, self-testing, and physical distancing, helps protect you and others by reducing the chance of spreading COVID-19.
How can people who want to help CORA lend a hand?
There are so many ways to give! CORA posts a list of most needed food items each month on our website as well as on social media.
People can give of their talent and time by volunteering. We accept volunteers on an ongoing basis. Volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org to get signed up for an orientation. Volunteers may help with client in-take, stocking, food prep and distribution, administrative tasks, being an events ambassador, food drives, working at our “choice” table, bagging food, and/or being part of our retail recovery team.
Of course, monetary donations are always welcome. We accept one-time and ongoing donations.
For more information, go to www.corafoodpantry.org.
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