By Sarah Hoehn
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
From the outside, the Carrboro Inter-Faith Council for Social Services site, 110 W. Main St., appears to be just a small building where nothing particularly exciting happens. But it only takes a quick roaming of the halls to see how incorrect that assumption is.
Walking through the front door, one can instantly see how busy the IFC is on an average day. Dozens of people occupy the halls as they go about their daily business of scheduling appointments, meeting with clients and consulting with donators. There are young children sitting on the floor of the lobby reading books about “Wall-E” and “Curious George.” This is a place where many families in Carrboro and Chapel Hill find hope.
For 50 years the IFC has been addressing the issue of poverty within the communities of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The agency started out small with only seven locally based volunteers, said Kristin Lavergne, the IFC community services director. Now, with three separate locations, the IFC is able to serve thousands of people in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.
In addition to its Main Street location, the IFC operates two long-term residential facilities, HomeStart, 2505 Homestead Rd., and Community House, 100 W. Rosemary St. HomeStart is reserved for women and children, whereas Community House is designed for men. The Community House location also serves as the home of Community Kitchen, a cafeteria that provides food for hungry members of the community.
The Carrboro location of the IFC serves as the location for community services and the food pantry. It is open Monday through Friday and serves about 120 clients each week, said volunteer receptionist Jim Pike.
“We want to be helpful in a useful way,” Pike said of IFC’s involvement with the community.
The food pantry is the largest operation that comes out of the Carrboro location, Lavergne said.
“Here, at this location last year, we did a little over 17,000 bags of food that we distributed through our food pantry,” Lavergne said. “That’s a lot of food going in and out.”
The food pantry is operated on a membership basis, Lavergne said. Each client receives a membership card labeled with the months of the year, and each household receives a grocery cart full of food each month. Lavergne said new people come in all the time, but the pantry sees returning people as well.
Food and monetary donations come from a variety of places, she said.
“We receive financial donations to help our programs, pay staff, keep the buildings running, purchase items and more directly help the clients,” Lavergne said.
There are also many congregations, student groups, neighborhoods and scout troops that donate money, time and resources.
In addition to a small full-time staff, the IFC relies heavily on a volunteer base to keep the operation running smoothly. Lavergne said the IFC logs approximately 500 volunteer hours each month through the Carrboro location alone.
“We have tons of volunteers that come and help us by sorting food, prepping it and getting it ready for meals,” Lavergne said. “There are extra groups that come in and do the serving and preparing of the food, everyday, three times a day. That really adds up.”
In addition to the food pantry, the IFC also serves the community through the services it offers.
A recent addition to the community services department is the post office, which allows clients with no permanent address to both send and receive mail.
“For a lot of people, they can continue their existence because of the mail base we have here,” said Elizabeth (who declined to give her last name), a volunteer with the IFC. “Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a stamp or sending a check.”
For the 2012 presidential election, the IFC helped register people to vote. This involved acquiring new IDs to replace ones that had been lost or stolen, and ensuring that all of the proper documentation was completed and turned in.
Merritt Chesson, a second year Duke Divinity School student, is completing her field education placement requirement with the IFC. She volunteers on Mondays and Fridays. Through her interactions with the community liaison, Chesson is able help set up and conduct interviews with IFC clients.
“I love seeing the way that different faith communities have come together to address the needs of the community,” Chesson said.
Though there are many volunteers, the IFC is always looking for more community involvement.
“The need is tremendous,” Elizabeth said. “And it is a real need.”
Donations of time, money and resources are all needed and accepted with gratitude at the IFC.
“I have literally been in tears when people hand us checks,” Elizabeth said. “When someone is just short on their rent or utility bill, they might have to go without heat or electricity, and it’s just a few dollars that they’re short — we get to be there for them.”
- The Inter-Faith Council for Social Services; http://www.ifcweb.org/
- IFC Volunteer Blogspot; http://ifcvolunteers.blogspot.com/
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