Looking back on where we started; looking forward to meet the challenges

Published 10:00 pm Friday, January 29, 2016

This year, Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry (“Outreach”) celebrates 25 years of providing compassionate assistance to our neighbors in need! Outreach was founded in 1991 after a study by Church Women United revealed that Polk County was one of the 200 poorest counties in the nation. Through vision, hard work and determination of our founder, Eloise Thwing, and many dedicated community members, the fledgling organization began serving the community from the basement of the Columbus United Methodist Church.

Local churches – many of which continue to provide vital support today – partnered with Outreach to consolidate their food pantries into one centralized organization. Thanks to the Polk County Community Foundation and many generous donors, Outreach opened its doors at its current location in 1998, adding the Collins Dental Center in 2006 and a pantry expansion in 2013.

As the need for Outreach’s services has grown and evolved, we have expanded our programs and services to meet the most critical needs of families and individuals living in poverty. Today, Outreach offers a variety of programs such as financial assistance for shelter and medical needs, the Feed-a-Kid Back-Pack Program, an annual school supply distribution, a Christmas program, and the Garden of Hope.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

So, what are the challenges facing Outreach over the next 25 years? According to NC Child, one in four Polk County children live in poverty — an increase of 70 percent since 2007!  Additionally, the U.S. Census forecasts that the number of Polk County citizens age 65 or older is expected to increase significantly. Further, AARP reports that the number of citizens in the country over age 50 that could be described as “food insecure” has doubled to about 10 million people since 2001. Meeting the unique needs of our clients at both ends of the life spectrum will be a significant focus for Outreach going forward. How can I help today, you ask?

Our next food drive is being held in conjunction with Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Each year, Outreach benefits from the Souperbowl of Caring movement (www.souperbowl.org).  Community members, church groups and other organizations celebrate game day by collecting cans of soup at parties and other gatherings. The food is delivered to Outreach’s food pantry the following week. This is a fun and simple way you can make a difference and help decrease food insecurity in our county.

Finally, it’s impossible to adequately express our thanks to the countless committed individuals and families, foundations, churches, businesses, civic clubs and others who have supported Outreach so generously with their time, treasures, and talents over the last 25 years. Without this vital assistance, Outreach would not exist. Thank you.

– Submitted by George Alley