In the Spirit of Thanksgiving: A New Model for Serving the Homeless

IFC FoodFirst, Carrboro


By Laurie Paolicelli

Affordable housing, sufficient food, and the opportunity to work for a living wage should be fundamental rights in a civilized society. But we need not look far to see that homelessness is an ever-deepening problem in our communities.

The roots of homelessness are complicated and specific to each of us who have been forced into the streets, with no roof, no bed, or a warm room to rest in. In Chapel Hill and Carrboro, there’s a new model for addressing this most pressing of challenges too many must endure.

In an effort to provide dignified services for people in need, by the summer of 2020 the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service Board will complete its 10-year planning process involving the construction of two shelters, HomeStart and Community House, as well as the new facility for its FoodFirst project.

Shelter residents formerly stayed at 100 West Rosemary Street, where the community kitchen was also located. The food pantry, emergency assistance program, and the administrative office, however, were located in 110 West Main Street in Carrboro. Now all services will be consolidated into the organization’s Carrboro location.

The new building will house IFC’s FoodFirst project, a 16,000-square-foot facility that will centralize all its services. To make the construction possible, the FoodFirst Capital Campaign secured $5.8 million from over 440 local families, congregations, businesses, and foundations.

Interfaith Council Carrboro Construction Site

Kristin Lavergne, IFC community services director, said the new building will simplify the pick-up process for its members, who live or work in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“Our plan is that once the building is built, all the services would be in the same building,” Lavergne said. “This just makes it easier, primarily for our members who don’t have to go to two different locations. They will be able to come in for groceries and also have a hot meal.”

She said the co-location also allows them to share staff who were previously working in separate locations and to gather food donations, as well. Both the community kitchen and pantry will be larger, and the pantry will also be operated on a “member-choice” basis.

“For the community kitchen, we’ll be able to serve more people at one time,” Jenks said. “There won’t be a long wait. This is especially important when people come into the kitchen on their lunch breaks and need to get in and out very quickly.”

She said members of the pantry can choose the goods themselves, rather than having volunteers or staff shopping for them. According to FoodFirst’s website, expanded cold storage will also increase the groceries IFC provides to each family by an average of 25%.

Susan Romaine, one of the three founders and directors for PORCH, a local grassroots hunger-relief organization, said the changes create more flexibility in utilizing food.

“One thing I love about having the pantry and the kitchen together is that as food comes in, FoodFirst will be more in a position to determine where that food is most needed,” Romaine said. “Should it go into the pantry, or does it need to go into the kitchen immediately to help with the preparation of meals?”

The FoodFirst project will have its grand opening in summer 2020.

Romaine said the new FoodFirst location is easy to reach by foot, bicycle, and transit, and is near affordable rental housing.

“I think it is going to be a real anchor in the community,” she said. “It will be accessible to so many people who are in need of supplemental food, which is just one more reason that I’m so excited about the plan.”

IFC Food Kitchen Helpers


Regardless of where we live, in a home or outside of one, we must remember that we are all part of the same community. We help each other because we seeeach other, and know what we need to do to make our lives and the lives of those around us better ones. This is why we live here, in Orange County. We help each other see the future through the lens of the present, a place where we should all be warm, dry, and sated.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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