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Inter-Faith Council for Social Service opens new 16,000+ sq. ft. Carrboro facility

Gunzo Bethea, facilities operation manager at the IFC in Carrboro, poses for a portrait on February 5, 2021 at the loading dock where he spends most of his time working.

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, the largest provider of social safety net services in Orange County, opened the doors of a new 16,000+ sq. ft. facility in late January. The new Carrboro building replaces the organization's former, smaller building in the same location. 

The IFC Commons, funded through a $6 million capital campaign of more than 700 individuals and organizations, was designed by Jim Spencer Architects. The group also helped design the IFC’s 16,500 sq. ft. local shelter for men, Community House, which was built in 2015 and funded through a separate, nearly $6 million capital campaign.

Jennifer Gill, development and communications director for the IFC, said the new design incorporates natural light, open space and uplifting artwork, reflecting its intent to provide a welcoming community space for Orange County residents in need. 

IFC Commons marks the first time in the organization’s 57-year history that all of the IFC’s major non-shelter programs, like the community market and community kitchen, as well as staff offices, will be in one building. Other programs run by the IFC include HomeStart shelter for women and families. 

“This building was made possible by the generosity of the community, and we want it to be a space where anyone is welcome,” Gill said. 

'Built for the purposes it serves'

A main goal of the design was to provide a space that effectively facilitates the organization's programs, which are aimed at alleviating and addressing the root causes of poverty. 

Features of the new building include a second-floor outdoor terrace and community room with computers and telephones available for public use. People without internet or phone access can use the computers to apply for jobs, print official documents and more. There are also lockers to keep personal belongings. 

Down the hallway is the dining room and kitchen, which serves hot meals 365 days a year. The new kitchen space is bigger than its old location at Chapel Hill's Old Town Hall — where for the 30 years it served meals to residents, there was often a line out the door. 

Gill said the larger space will allow the IFC to serve more people more efficiently. At the old location, a rainy day would often mean fewer people came to get a meal, but the covered courtyard should help solve that problem.

For people without a car, the building is near the bus line, and the parking garage makes it a more dignified experience for folks picking up groceries, Gill said.

Around the corner from the kitchen is the community market, which provides approximately 1,300 bags of groceries to Orange County households every month. Volunteers like Barbara Wildemuth pack the bags during the pandemic, but the space is set up like a grocery store so that when it is safe, families will be able to pick out their own food. In 2020, the IFC provided over 15,000 bags of groceries to families in need.

“One thing I have noticed is we are getting a lot more new people that can’t quite get by,” Wildemuth, a retired UNC professor, said. 

Next to the market is a loading dock, which Gunzo Bethea, facilities operation manager for the IFC, said was missing in the previous buildings. The loading dock will increase efficiency with moving food deliveries. 

On the third floor are staff offices and rooms to facilitate the IFC’s various social justice initiatives through R.E.A.L. Transformation (Race.Equity.Action.Leadership). The initiatives advocate for systems-level change by elevating historically marginalized voices in the political process. 

Bethea said he has worked with the IFC for almost 10 years. Before he was facilities operation manager, he served as manager of staff for the organization's men’s shelter, which also helps men with social services such as health care, finding housing and applying for jobs. 

“It’s all about taking a little less stress off of the individual who doesn’t know which way to turn,” Bethea said.

The IFC was founded in 1963 by a group of local women to address conditions of poverty in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. 

In 2020, the IFC served over 54,000 hot meals and provided over $119,000 in rent, utility and other emergency assistance funds to 826 households.  

Gill said about three years ago, the IFC expanded its mission statement to include addressing the root causes of poverty. 

“Moving into this new building will help us as we transition from a charity model to a social justice model, where instead of just doing something for someone affected by poverty, we are working with them to fix the root issues and make structural changes," Gill said.

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