Sitting at their sons’ sports banquet, Debbie Horwitz, Christine Cotton and Susan Romaine all came to the same realization: their children were playing with children who were hungry.
The trio saw an advertisement for a local food bank that needed cans of tuna, and they decided to jump into action. Reaching out to their friends, who then reached out to their friends, they quickly found out how small contributions could combine to overcome big problems.
After their initial push, they began encouraging local families to leave cans of food on their porches, where they would be collected and delivered to local food banks, and PORCH communities was born.
"A judgement-free zone — that's what we are at PORCH," Cotton said.
Neighborhood coordinators around Chapel Hill pick up food from porches in their community before delivering them to St. Thomas More Catholic Church. At the church, the food is sorted by local volunteers and sent to 15 local food pantries. The program, called Food for Families, donates the remaining food to 400 families in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.
"This quantity of food lasts about 10 days and helps to bridge the gap between paychecks, allows people to maybe pay their electric bill or buy their kids shoes, get school supplies, pay for gas — all of the things that are a struggle for families," Horwitz said.
According to the PORCH website, a recent follow-up survey showed that 75 percent of families who received Food for Families donations reported they worry about getting enough food to eat on a regular basis.
Families are referred to PORCH by social workers at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools who see students who may be struggling with hunger. This tactic not only allows for a one-way movement of food, but it also allows for volunteers to develop relationships with the people they serve and fosters a sense of local community, Horwitz said.
“By accessing families through the schools, it sets up a baseline of safety and trust, so families feel good about coming," she said.
PORCH recently announced two new Board of Directors members. Gabriel Treves-Kagan, director of development and community impact at the Latino Community Credit Union, has previously worked as a research analyst and consultant. Dennis Swartzlander, the other new member, is a retired software engineer and former social services caseworker.
According to the PORCH newsletter, both Treves-Kagan and Swartzlander said they are looking forward to continuing the organization's success. Treves-Kagan also said in the newsletter he is exploring ways for PORCH to incorporate financial literacy into their mission to prevent future food insecurity.
PORCH has partnered with Book Harvest to distribute free books to children, Orange Literacy to provide families with access to English Second Language classes, and Head Start to promote early education efforts in the community, Horwitz said. They are also working with Weaver Street Market for their "round up" campaign from February to April.
For the campaign, shoppers at the market can chose to round up their purchases to the next dollar, with the extra money going to PORCH. Last year, the campaign raised $75,000 for PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro and PORCH Hillsborough, which was used to provide fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs to supplement the non-perishablesand provide an opportunity for PORCH recipients to have a balanced diet.
After its humble beginnings in Chapel Hill in 2010, PORCH communities has expanded to include 19 different chapters across North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and Georgia. Horwitz said PORCH is always looking for donations to support their efforts, and it encourages students and local residents alike to come to their monthly box packing at St. Thomas More to learn more about the organization.
“It really just takes one can, because something so small can collectively make a big impact," Cotton said.
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