PITTSBORO — As Chatham Literacy Executive Director Vicki Newell stepped into the recently renovated CORA Food Pantry warehouse, she said “Oh my gosh, this is amazing!”
Newell took in the sight of fresh vegetables and fruits, canned goods, refrigerators filled with chicken, ham and other meat, all of which were neatly organized to resemble any grocery store in the area.
Respect. That is what the renovations to the CORA building exemplified, she said.
“This doesn't make you feel like you have a need,” she said, surrounded by ripe bananas, broccoli and pumpkins.
CORA held its grand reopening event at 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, where Executive Director Melissa Driver Beard said CORA has served over 230 families since reopening its doors at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 17. In addition, according to CORA’s Impact Report for fiscal year from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, they have distributed 1.28 million meals, serving 10,220 individuals.
Timeline of CORA’s renovations
Though CORA only recently reopened its doors, the renovations and building process span back to 2015.
Development & Communications Director Rebecca Hankins said CORA’s Board of Directors asked the Chatham County Board of Commissioners for more funding to expand its facility in 2015. Three years later in November 2018, CORA had the ground breaking for the pantry warehouse, located to the left of the original building structure.
However it took an additional three years, partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, to continue construction of the pantry warehouse, spanning from February to June 2021, Hankins said.
The most recent renovations and construction to CORA’s administrative offices located in the original building structure started in January 2023 and finished at the end June 2023, she said.
For two weeks, the finishing touches were made: arranging furniture, setting up the pantry, organizing the warehouse, and starting to welcome families back into the facility since before the pandemic, she said.
Since the pandemic, CORA has done curbside pickup, where families still got to choose from a variety of foods, but did not have a grocery store-style experience.
But it does now.
What to expect when you walk in
For any individual or families looking to use CORA’s services for the first time, they walk in and are greeted by a front desk worker who will ask them to fill out a questionnaire. It asks for the individual’s name, phone number, how many people will be fed by the pantry, food allergies and, if comfortable, income and demographic information, Hankins said.
“As an organization that relies on grants, having that information is very useful,” she said. “So that's what we do — It's a very quick intake process.”
After that, the individual or family is given a CORA card, which looks like a business card, that identifies the individual so they don’t have to go through the intake process each time they come in.
The individual is given a number and waits in the lobby for the until their number is called to go into the pantry, she said. For families coming in, the lobby now has a children’s area with books a toy shopping cart and comfy seats.
Children can take a book home every time they come in, Cindi Ebert, president of CORA’s Board of Directors, said.
Once a person’s number is called, they can proceed into the pantry area — accompanied by a volunteer the whole way — where they grab a red shopping cart and go through the aisles, picking their allotted number of produce and goods.
A caring community
“I think what we have here is really a reflection of a community that cares,” Karen Howard, Chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, said in the grand reopening initial remarks.
Hankins agreed with Howard’s statement and said she wants the community to know that CORA is here to help.
According to the 2022 Census, 12% of people in Chatham County are in poverty. Thus, Hankins said someone’s neighbor could be food insecure without their neighbor knowing.
“It's not only CORA staff and volunteers and board that care,” Hankins said. “The community has come out, donated, and allows us to do this work and do it well.”
CORA Choice Shopping is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, and Drive Through is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays.
For more information on CORA, visit its website at www.corafoodpantry.org