Ch@t: CORA’s ‘Empty Bowls’ event helps it serve Chatham’s hungry

Posted 1/24/20

Chatham Outreach Alliance’s mission is to provide food to individuals and families within our community who are in need during difficult personal economic periods. This week, we speak with …

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Ch@t: CORA’s ‘Empty Bowls’ event helps it serve Chatham’s hungry

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Chatham Outreach Alliance’s mission is to provide food to individuals and families within our community who are in need during difficult personal economic periods. This week, we speak with Executive Director Melissa Driver Beard and CORA’s Director of Development & Communications, Rebecca Hankins, about the organization and its upcoming fundraisers — including the popular “Empty Bowls” event on Feb. 9. Melissa Driver Beard has been working in the nonprofit sector for 26 years at local, state, national, and international levels. After working for many years in developing countries, she made the decision to address the issues of poverty and hunger closer to home and began her work with CORA last July. Beard is a native of N.C., a graduate of UNC, a self-proclaimed “travel addict” and a very proud mom.

For more than 17 years, Rebecca Hankins has poured herself into various nonprofits, from New Jersey to North Carolina. She has spent these years honing her skills as a fundraiser, communication specialist, project manager, and invaluable jane of all trades. Hankins received her undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross master’s degree from Seton Hall University. She has been a Durham resident for more than 12 years and shares her home with her husband Scott, son Colton, and two rescue dogs Belle and Guinness.

We’ve written a lot about food insecurity in Chatham County. CORA serves the 20,000 people living in this county who lack regular, dependable access to nutritious food, and in the past year, you’ve seen a significant increase in participation in your pantry program. Let’s start first with the increased demand you’ve seen, particularly over the holidays. How have you responded to those increased needs?

Last year we served nearly 11,000 individuals and this year we have experienced a 60 percent increase in pantry visitors. The holiday season was especially busy, in fact the busiest in the history of CORA. Since the organization has more effectively reached out to potential families about our services, we did anticipate growth. However, we did not expect such a sharp increase. Thanks to a record year for food drives and in-kind donations, as well as a strong year-end fundraising campaign, we finished the year fulfilling 100 percent of our community’s requests. We are so thankful for Chatham County and our amazing volunteers, donors, businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, and other community groups that help us build a community without hunger.


We can all read about “food insecurity,” but can you describe what it looks like, and feels like, to those in the throes of it?

In short, it looks like all of us. The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. At CORA, we can tell you that hunger doesn’t discriminate. There are people across Chatham County struggling to put food on the table. Families, men, women, and children of every age and race live with hunger in our community.

Feelings around food insecurity are much harder to explain, especially if one hasn’t experienced it personally, like me. From spending time with our families, our organization has learned that food insecurity affects people differently. Physically, one can experience hunger pains or suffer ailments due to poor nutrition. Emotionally, people feel shame for having to ask for assistance, desperation as they choose between medical bills and food, and fear as they don’t know when their next meal will be. Hopefully, CORA is a place of hope and comfort for many in our community and a respite from these feelings and struggles.

Your “Empty Bowls” fundraiser, set for Feb. 9, is a tangible way for people to remember that someone’s bowl is always empty. What can you share about this year’s event, the 10th annual?

CORA’s 10th Empty Bowls fundraiser is from 5-8 p.m. on Sunday, February 9th, at Galloway Ridge at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. This year’s event will have two seatings, one at 5 p.m. and one at 6:30 p.m. The concept is simple: guests choose a handmade bowl, enjoy delicious soup from local restaurants, appetizers, home-baked breads, and desserts. After the event, guests go home with their bowl that serves as a reminder that someone’s bowl is always empty and that we need to continue our efforts to end hunger in Chatham County. Tickets are on sale now.

CORA’s Empty Bowls is one of many such events held nationwide and in at least 14 other countries. The concept, now in its 29th year, was first developed by a teacher and his high school students in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — conceived as a way to raise money for hunger relief organizations while providing donors with a tangible reminder of the problem of worldwide hunger.


How can people get tickets and additional information?

Easy — just go to


Looking ahead, you have the “Miles for Meals 5K” event planned for late March. Can you tell us about that?

CORA is hosting our Miles for Meals 5K run and 1-mile fun walk at 8 a.m. on Sunday, March 29, at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. This new event will bring individuals and families together to support the fight against hunger childhood hunger in Chatham County. Speed walk, casually stroll, jog, or take a chip-timed run. Participants are encouraged to form a team, bringing together friends, family and even their dogs (the course is dog and stroller friendly!) to challenge themselves to complete the course and raise additional funds.

More information about the event, including registering online, can be found at In addition, corporate sponsorships opportunities are available, please contact Rebecca Hankins at 919-491-5896 for more information.

CORA’s recent expansion has included adding weekend hours, creating a “Mobile Market” for Siler City and more. Can you talk about those things are helping CORA meet its goals and objectives?

CORA’s mission, at its core, is to feed hungry people in Chatham County. We’ve been working hard to fulfill our mission, in any and every way possible, for the past 30 years. While we served nearly 11,000 individuals last year, we estimate there are over 8,500 additional neighbors in need who could use the CORA’s services. In order to meet this gap in services and demand, we need to continue to build support in our community to ensure that CORA has the resources to explore new solutions.

Through surveying many of our clients the past year, we identified there are solutions to addressing the gap in services and need. In 2019, we began Saturday Pantry hours to serve families that have a hard time getting to CORA during the workweek. Many of our clients do work and are among the county’s many underemployed. In addition, we launched our Mobile Market in October to expand our footprint to in the western part of Chatham County. Many of our current families already reside on the western of the county and the lack of affordable public transportation is an obstacle for those who need our services the most.

CORA’s overarching goal is to create a community without hunger. It’s critical that we work together to achieve this and take care of the most vulnerable in our community. However, to make all these strides, we need support from foundations, individuals, businesses, and other community partners.

You serve 11,000 individuals facing hunger each year…and nearly 10,000 hours of volunteer time are donated to CORA annually. What’s important to recognize about those two numbers?

To me the biggest take away from these number is the massive need for food assistance in our community and the massive amount of compassion and empathy in our community helping us build a community without hunger. Chatham County is a shining example of how we can work together and take care of the most vulnerable in our community. CORA’s deep roots in the community are an enormous part of its success.






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