TBOM celebrates anniversary

Published 2:48 pm Monday, January 31, 2011

Former Feed-A-Kid Program student volunteers Dezma Hodge and Erika Bailey. (photo submitted)

Thermal Belt Outreach will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a Valentine High Tea to be held in honor of Outreach’s founder and executive director Eloise Thwing Sunday, Feb. 13.

The tea will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. at Tryon Estates and will feature five gourmet teas, coffee, punch, scones, pinwheel sandwiches, fruits, cheeses and chocolate macaroons.

Tickets are on sale at area banks and at Vera’s of Landrum.

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During the evening a slide show on multiple screens will play photos from the 20-year history, including the building, 21 different ministries and programs, a dental clinic and subsidized housing.

All this grew out of a simple idea: Something needs to be done about poverty in Polk County.

When the women of the Church Women United were finally ready to get to work on Feb. 2, 1991, they set up shop in a Columbus United Methodist Church classroom with a telephone, volunteers and a half time staff person.

In the first six months of operation, most of the help given was for food. Food pantries were set up at local churches.

The Columbus Food Bank was supported by Columbus United Methodist, Columbus Presbyterian and Garrison Chapel Baptist Church.

Then there was the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Food Bank, the Green Creek First Baptist Church Food Pantry and the Tryon Presbyterian Church Food Pantry, which was supported by Holy Cross Episcopal Church, First Baptist of Tryon, Tryon United Methodist, Tryon Congregational and Thermal Belt Unitarian Fellowship.

It soon became apparent that clients also needed help with rent, utilities, prescriptions, heating and cooling costs and gas to get to work and to doctors’ appointments.

Outreach’s founding chairman of the board, Eloise Thwing, took the job as executive director after only a few months. She set about coordinating services with area social service and health agencies, and began raising money to provide assistance not available elsewhere.

The Thermal Belt Outreach budget for 1992 was set at $14,000. Twenty years later, the organization has a budget of nearly $500,000.

Outreach brought many programs to Polk County which were already in existence, but had not been brought to bear on Polk County’s poverty problems.

In 1993, Duke Power added Thermal Belt Outreach to its Share the Warmth program. In 1995, Outreach began its Med-Assist program to help clients apply for low cost and free prescriptions offered by pharmaceutical companies.

For two decades, Thermal Belt Outreach kept reaching out and exploring new avenues to help those in need in Polk County.

To end the cycle of poverty, Outreach has offered budget counseling and job search resources.

In 2010, a total of 2,194 families were given assistance, representing 5,852 individuals.

In addition to adding programs over the years, Thermal Belt Outreach bought land and built its own headquarters, helped to establish a dental clinic and a subsidized housing apartment complex. Highlights of that history will be told in articles to follow.