Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry grows

Published 9:40 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry White Drive facility. (photo submitted)

TBOM history continues

Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry (TBOM) began in humble surroundings with a budget not much larger than that of its individual clients.

Collins Dental Clinic groundbreaking. From left: Dr. Hobart Rogers, Becky Collins, Eloise Thwing and Rev. Tony Sayer. (photo submitted)

The staff and volunteers worked hard to reach their mission of reducing poverty in Polk County, one of the top 200 counties in the United States with the greatest amount of poverty per capita.

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In the past 20 years, Outreach, with the help of individuals and churches in the area, not only grew the budget to assist those in dire need, but also added services one after the other.

In time, they would also add bricks and mortar to the Polk County landscape. They built a new office building in Columbus, added a dental clinic and worked to bring a subsidized housing complex to the area.

TBOM 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 – 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.

A slide show featuring the 20-year history of Outreach will play on four screens during the afternoon event. The move of TBO from headquarters in a Sunday school classroom to its own building will be among the highlights of the slide show.

It was in 1997, just six years after Outreach began its operations, that the ministry was able to buy an acre of land from Charlie Feagan at 134 White Drive in Columbus and build its own offices. There, with offices and a food pantry of its own to combine the four community pantries it had operated, it began to flourish.

Dave Herron, a volunteer coordinator, began operating the new pantry with volunteers sent by area churches. He died 11 years later, having only just begun as paid staff. The pantry is named in his honor. Jim McClintock and his wife, Dot, began volunteering to run the pantry in 1998 and Jim was hired in 2007.

In 2004, the Feagan family agreed to sell an additional nine acres to Outreach. In 2005, the building was expanded to include a large conference room, counseling space and expanded food pantry with a walk-in cooler and freezer.

With all operations under one roof, Outreach moved ahead with expansion of programs and development of new ones.

In 2002, Outreach staff and volunteers formed a Bridging the Health Care Gap committee. Within just a few years, this committee would help to establish the Collins Dental Clinic on White Drive, next to Outreach headquarters. There, underprivileged children were able to receive proper dental care.

Outreach didn’t stop there. The staff and volunteers had been studying housing needs since 1998. After documenting the need for decent, affordable housing in Polk County, the staff and volunteers went to work to attract developers of subsidized housing projects to the county.

In 2004, their efforts saw the dedication of Ashley Meadows, a 48-unit housing complex on Hwy. 108 near Polk County High School.

In its 20 years of operation, with Eloise Thwing at the helm, Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry has served a total of 78,927 individuals from 29,777 households. They have helped with food, utilities and rent, firewood, medical and dental care, prescriptions, transportation, clothing, electric fans and heaters.

For tickets and information, call TBOM at 828-894-2988.