Friday, June 26, 2009

After 17 years, a nonprofit casualty?

The crowd had grown large before the food truck was unloaded. Dozens of men and women, children on their hips and boxes in their hands, ready to be filled. A standard Friday morning.

Rosa Marion choreographed the chaos, as she does each week at Harvest Center, as she hopes to keep doing if money allows. She's not sure how much longer that will be.

“You get in line right there,” she instructed one woman, then surveyed the scene. “We'll have 300 here today,” she said, then said it again – “three hundred” - and shook her head.

After 17 years of feeding the poor and homeless in Charlotte's Genesis Park neighborhood, Harvest Center may have to close down. It's one of many nonprofits – unaffiliated with United Way – that face their own struggles for money.

Pastor Barbara Brewton Cameron founded Harvest Center in 1992 and helped run it until her death last year. Now in the hands of Marion, Cameron's sister, Harvest Center feeds more than 1,800 families a month with pantry items from Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, plus more than 5,000 hot meals a month to the poor and homeless.

The number of needy here has risen more than 30 percent in the past year. Donations have dried up. “People just stopped giving,” said Marion. “They don't have anything.”

Harvest Center gets its food from Second Harvest, and volunteers help staff breakfast and lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, plus Sunday breakfast. But there are staffing expenses, building expenses, youth programs, drug-addiction programs. Executive Director Blease Turner says the bills average $41,000 a month.

While most nonprofits operate with up to six months of operating costs in reserve, Harvest Center is down to less than a month's. Already, officials have laid off three part-time staffers and eliminated a program that drove seniors to and from the center for food. Other staffers have been asked to take unpaid time off. “We're in dire straits,” Turner said. “We've been there before, but not like this.”

At the least, the center will close next week – temporarily, officials hope – to regroup.
Outside, Marion handed out a half-gallon of milk. She dodged a volunteer. She placed a hand on a passing shoulder.

“If I have to, I'll stand out on the street and hand out this food,” she said. ‘If we close these doors, where are these people going to go?”

For more information on Harvest Center, call 704-333-4280.


Anonymous said...

Good luck to this group.

THANK YOU Observer for recognizing that only a few groups are affiliated with UW. Most groups are working hard to raise their own funds and need the community's support in every way possible.