ROCKINGHAM — Robert Long, a retired truck driver, volunteered at Southern Mission Ministries in Hoffman for about seven years before moving in 2010. About a year-and-a-half ago, he began going to Our Daily Bread Christian Food Ministry, but not as a volunteer — this time he was in need.
“Sometimes I just get in a rough spot,” Long said. He heard about Our Daily Bread through friends and after he attended a morning prayer by Director Debbie Rohleder he thought to himself, “This is a good place to be.”
“I think it’s a great asset to the community,” he said.
Food insecurity isn’t uncommon for Richmond County residents, which leaves charitable organizations like Our Daily Bread to help families and individuals get their next meal.
Richmond County is a Tier 1 county, meaning it’s among the 40 most economically distressed in the state. The North Carolina Department of Commerce determines a county’s tier based on average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita, according to the Commerce website.
Commerce estimates that there were 10,900 people — 24 percent of the total 45,710 estimated 2016 population — who had an income below the poverty level in Richmond County in 2016.
Located at 108 S. Randolph St. in Rockingham, Our Daily Bread primarily takes donations from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, as well as the Food Lion on East Broad Avenue, with support from 45 churches in Richmond County who contribute in various ways, according to Rohleder.
“They all work for the same goal which is to alleviate the food situation in Richmond County,” Rohleder said. Rebecca Gilliam, a volunteer with Our Daily Bread for 10 years, said the food ministry “fills in the blanks” when people struggle in between food stamps, pay checks or disability benefits, but Rohleder used a more dramatic metaphor: “It’s like a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage.”
“[Food stamps] only go so far,” Rohleder said.
But each May, Our Daily Bread gets a special delivery: thousands of pounds of food collected by the Post Office from county residents. Over the weekend of May 12, the Stamp Out Hunger food drive brought in about 16,000 pounds of food from county residents. Residents hang grocery bags full of non-perishables on their porches which are then picked up by the normal delivery trucks.
Clifton Garrison, a city carrier for the Rockingham Post Office and the organizer for the food drive, said they picked up 1,700 bags of food from 13 routes in both city and rural areas. The National Association of Letter Carriers started the drive in the early 1990s.
“I’m just happy to be able to contribute to the needy,” Garrison said.
Postmaster Branford Faw said May is usually a dry-spell for donations, unlike the holidays, so the Post Office tries to give them a boost. Faw’s daughter volunteers with Our Daily Bread, and he said she called him when the big delivery came in asking, “What’s with all this food from the Post Office?”
“People from all walks of life donate, people you would expect and people you wouldn’t expect — the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots,’” Faw said.
In order to receive food from Our Daily Bread, people have to meet the federal poverty guidelines, and at least two of three other criteria: live in Richmond County; be below the poverty line; and receive food stamps. Rohleder said the “living in Richmond County” requirement can be stretched in case of emergency.
Brent Neal, a retired lawyer who’s been volunteering with Our Daily Bread for a little over a year, said he’s amazed at how many people meet the requirements to be served even though they have jobs.
“It always blows my mind,” Neal said.
On an average day, Our Daily Bread has about 40 families stop by to receive a box of food and other materials like toilet paper — donated by Cascades, which Rohleder called “invaluable.” Families receive different boxes of food depending on how many individuals are in the family. The items from the Post Office’s drive tend to be more varied than the usual donations, so people may get a much different box of food.
Gilliam, of Ellerbe, said she started working with Our Daily Bread 10 years ago after a friend mentioned it to her as a way to “get out of the house.” Now a stay-at-home mom, Gilliam said volunteering with Our Daily Bread “gives me a fulfillment that I’ve helped out the community.”
“I’m doing my part because that’s what we’re called to do as Christians,” she said, adding that “the love and appreciation [the beneficiaries] have shown” is why she keeps going back.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]