Gift-in-kind program supported by generous community members

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In last month’s column, I wrote about sharing gifts with the community. This month, I’d like to share information about how the community gives to Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry. In addition to the generous gifts of financial support that we receive, Outreach’s Gift-In-Kind Program accepts goods and services from local businesses, churches, civic clubs and residents throughout the year. These gifts are then distributed directly to Outreach clients.

Food Lion, Bi-Lo, and Walmart account for more than 50 percent of all donations of food and non-durable goods. Our regional food bank, MANNA Foodbank (a Feeding America affiliate) donates another 25 percent and local businesses and residents make up the final 25 percent. For example, the Polk County High School track team collected more than 2,700 cans of food at the 2015 Reindeer Games, while local individuals and families donated more than 8,000 pounds of food and supplies in December alone!

In addition to providing volunteers and direct financial assistance, churches often hold food drives.  Members of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church travel to the Walmart Gift-In-Kind Center each week to “shop” for Outreach’s Gift-in-Kind program. This dedicated group has collected more than half a million dollars’ worth of products since the Center opened in 2010! The items that they obtain are everyday necessities such as paper products (napkins, toilet paper, paper towels), household cleaning products and personal care items that cannot be purchased through the SNAP Program (food-stamps) and which can be quite costly, eating into a family’s budget.

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More than 20 local businesses have provided support to Outreach in the form of direct sponsorship, gift-in-kind donations, grants or hosting food drives. For example, The Timken Foundation provided a significant grant to help us expand our refrigeration/freezer capacity while Heartwood Gallery sold beautiful Christmas ornaments to support our mission. No less than a dozen area restaurants have donated food and supplies and numerous other organizations help in unique, creative, and truly inspiring ways.

Our next major gift-in-kind drive will be for food during early February. Each year, Outreach takes part in the Souperbowl of Caring ( Community members and organizations celebrate game day by collecting cans of soup at parties and other gatherings. The food is then donated to Outreach for distribution through our food pantry. Together, we can make a difference and reduce the suffering of our neighbors in need.

– Submitted by George Alley