Since it opened earlier this year, Community Kitchen of Bennettsville has fed hundreds with the help of community volunteers.
Last weekend, more than 85 volunteers from Domtar, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the community came together to help founders Roger and Anne Griggs with the next phase for the Community Kitchen.
“The Community Kitchen took care of the part of feeding people that are less fortunate,” Griggs said. “We still had it on our hearts about helping people keep warm during the coldest times.”
The Student Conservation Association is a non-profit group whose mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment.
Volunteers worked on the courtyard beside the Community Kitchen by putting together picnic benches, tables, hanging sun shade sails, painting the trash cans as well as setting up greenery in the planters.
Griggs said when the courtyard is completed, space heaters will be placed there. The benches will be wide enough and big enough for people to sleep on them during the coldest winter nights.
“People will have a place to come to sleep and be able to keep warm,” he said.
Also on the back wall industrial fans will be installed to circulate air throughout the courtyard during hot summer days.
Griggs thought what the volunteers were doing was fantastic.
“We appreciate the heart of Domtar for caring about our environment, the people in the community and having the heart to serve those who are less fortunate than some of us are,” he said. “To be able to coordinate and have SCA as a partner to do these types of things, it is coming together really well.”
Griggs hoped to have the courtyard opened by the end of November and they are working on other logistics about it.
“It might run a couple of weeks longer than that,” he said. “These old walls need a lot of tender loving care to get them where they need to be. We are gaining on them.”
The Community Kitchen opened in May and served 15-20 people in its first week. And now it is averaging 130 people a day.
The hours have changed. They are now opened from 11:30-1 p.m. Monday through Friday because of the increase in the number of people they are serving.
Griggs said the outpouring of support from the community has just been overwhelming from individuals, organizations, industry and so forth.
“It is all coming together,” he said. “This is our phase two of our program. Today is helping us to move this along big time.”
Heather Stowe, corporate social responsibility manager for Domtar, said she visited the Bennettsville mill in the spring.
She manages the Earth Choice Ambassador team for Domtar. They wanted to show her two projects that employees at both Bennettsville Mill and the Tatum converting facility had been working on together. One of those projects was the Community Kitchen. After touring it and seeing the courtyard, Stowe knew it would be the perfect project with their collaboration with SCA.
“I can’t imagine a more perfect project than this and how important it would be for Bennettsville and our employees as well,” she said. “It is very satisfying.”
Lukas Miller, the corporate engagement coordinator for SCA, said they have partnered with Domtar since 2012.
“The Community Kitchen of Bennettsville is such an important part of this community,” Miller said.
Volunteers came from all over the country from New York, Arizona, Illinois, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Miller said volunteers with the Community Kitchen have already done a tremendous amount of work.
“We are happy to be a small part of their goal,” he said. “The projects we are doing today will start to soften the courtyard space, make it usable as a respite for the homeless in this area so they can come to get rest and feel sheltered.”
Dennis Askew, plant manager at the Bennettsville location, said it was important to Domtar to help but giving back is not new to them.
“We help out here at the Community Kitchen once a month with food, resources, and money to help support,” he said.
CareSouth employees Jackie Anderson and Nichelle Nichols volunteered during the event.
“It is part of giving back to the community,” Anderson said. “We would like to see our community grow and prosper.”
Both have volunteered at the Community Kitchen in the past and had the mobile unit outside to provide free health screenings to the participants.
Nichols said she has seen the disparities from living and working in the community.
“I know there is a great need,” she said. “We were excited when the community kitchen came here. We knew that would cut down some but not answer all the issues. It would cut down on the hunger that plagues the community.”
Anderson added having the Community Kitchen is great because of various entities providing resources such as healthcare, information about transportation, insurance, and medication assistance.
Nichols was pleased about the next phase for the Community Kitchen because she has heard people say there is no homelessness in Marlboro County.
“Yes, there is. People who are homeless are just like you,” she said. “They don’t bring their problems out. No one wants the stigma of ‘I am homeless’. They have dignity and they have pride just like we do.”
Anderson noted the face of homelessness is changing because most people looked just like everyone else.
“They are not a typical homeless person on the street,” she said. “They are sleeping in cars or abandoned houses.”
Nichols added they are not always coming up to people begging for change.
If interested in volunteering or donating, call Anne Griggs at 843-862-1810.