A friendship that began at a book club developed into a crucial partnership to feed clients in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lutheran Services Carolinas teammate Amelia Howard met Sharon Schulze, pastor at South Durham Connections, when they lived in the same neighborhood and joined a book club. At the time she didn’t know that Schulze was a co-founder of Parktown Food Hub; a food pantry with a mission to reduce hunger and food insecurity in South Durham.
“I was going through candidacy to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor and the nudge of my calling seemed to be pointing to doing something in the community. So I did various things and the only one that really caught on was working with food insecurity,” Schulze said.
Schulze’s wife is on the Board of Trustees for Parkwood United Methodist Church and knew about a food pantry that was up and running close by at Parkwood Elementary School. It was created by a woman named Aja Purnell-Mitchell who had the same calling. So they combined their resources and shaped it into something bigger and better.
In 2019, the women opened the food hub at the church and began letting families come and shop twice a month. Since then, the hub continued to grow and they moved distributions to a drive-through format.
Getting connected with LSC
Howard is LSC’s home- and community-based state director and works with its Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) program, which operates in Orange, Person, and Chatham Counties in North Carolina. It is a mobile multi-disciplinary approach to the treatment of severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). Raynor Street, a Durham apartment complex, serves adults with severe and persistent mental illness and also provides residential assistance.
Part of the program is providing food to clients when possible, but when COVID-19 hit, that became more difficult.
“We receive monthly food from a local food pantry, but with COVID they stopped. Some of the ACTT clients who were using that to supplement food were struggling a little bit,” Howard said. “A lot of them have medical conditions, so going to the grocery store is tricky.”
While brainstorming ideas on how to get clients the food they needed, Howard came across a Facebook post from Schulze about Parktown Food Hub. She reached out, shared her need, and Schulze told her to come get some food.
Since then, the program receives weekly or bi-weekly food donations from the hub picked up by either Grayson Hite, ACTT program director, or Sybil Richardson, director of Raynor Street.
“They give us canned goods, fresh vegetables, fruits and meats; it’s been awesome to give our clients more than just basic canned goods. It allows us to provide a wider range of nutritional support they weren’t getting before,” Hite said. “It’s really just incredible, especially during COVID. It’s such a great opportunity to be able to give a little extra support for our clients. I’m so grateful for them.”
This new partnership also had a positive impact on the food hub. Schulze said it has been really important in helping the hub’s volunteers understand and figure out how to manage and develop more community partnerships.
“For us, working with LSC and other partners, it fits really well into our mission of being community. We are not saying only we can do it. We trust Grayson and Sybil to make good use of resources,” Schulze said. “We know they are going to share with people who need it. It helps us do what we intend to do and what we are called by God to do.”