JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
For the past two years, James rises in the morning, wakes up his younger brothers, Nick and Sam, and leads them to the Onslow Community Outreach homeless shelter and soup kitchen to get them their first and sometimes last meal of the day.
The three brothers appeared slim and even smaller as they stood next to adults that towered over them. The youngest of them seemed timid when he approached the servers holding a tray that was half his size. He then shyly whispered “thank you,” and followed his brothers to a table.
James and his siblings currently live with their grandmother who provides a home, but family dinner is something they’re still missing.
There are children living in the Jacksonville community that depend on other resources to receive a meal. During the school year, kids have meals provided by the schools they attend, but when school is out, some have a dramatic change in diet.
There are about 1,600 homeless people in Onslow County and more than 400 of them are children.
“We see it on the news all the time and it really hits home to actually see all the children and families in need,” said Dixie Lanier, strategic marketing manager with Actus Lend Lease, Atlantic Marine Corps Communities.
Onslow Community Outreach is a non-profit organization that is always looking for support in helping local residents. This year AMCC and Lend Lease came up with a plan to help fill empty stomachs, promote healthy lives and support those in need.
Staff from AMCC and Lend Lease spent their lunch time filling lunch bags to give to the shelter, July 8. Lend Lease foundation provided funds for all of the food supplies. The sound of boxes tearing and bags ruffling lasted for about an hour, and when all was silent, 200 bagged meals were made.
The bags piled high and looked like a mountain, but this mountain will soon resemble a plateau in a few days. Some of the children have many siblings and their parents have difficulty providing for them all, and there were also kids that arrived alone, unaccompanied, without parents or guardians.
“My parents are going through some stuff, so they’re not around,” said James, as he lowered his head thinking about his parents. “I walk over here with my little brothers because I don’t ever want them to feel hungry. We’ve been coming here for two years now … they know my grandma and help us out whenever they can. They help us out a lot. For Christmas we come here (and) it’s nice because we get to eat and sing Christmas songs. We’re thankful to have people that care about us.”
“Yep, we’ll be here tomorrow,” added James’s youngest brother Nick.
Lanier said it was the first time they’ve provided these meals for the Onslow Community Outreach soup kitchen.
“I’m really glad that they’re stepping in to help us, because those bags that they’ve made are for the children,” said Remy Stitt, soup kitchen director with Onslow Community Outreach. “I have about 25 children that come in to eat at the (shelter) every weekday.”
There are many people that are unaware of the hardship the local children and families go through.
“I didn’t think that children would miss a meal if they didn’t go to school,” said Cricket Devers, assistant project cost manager with Lend Lease. “At least here their going to have lunch at the center and the bags that we make them could be their dinner.”
With the economic decline, families have been stretching their dollar, struggling to make ends meet and a free meal can go a long way.
Stitt said their soup kitchen use to serve 40 to 50 people a day, but now the numbers have increased to about 70 to 120 people a day.
The kind hearts with AMCC and lend lease have taken the initiative and plans to do all that they can to aid Onslow Community Outreach and their mission to the community, especially the children.
“Children are our future. It’s sad because they have no control over what their life is like,” said Devers. “It’s up to the parents to provide for them and if they can’t for whatever reason, it’s great that I work with a company that allows us to be able to do this.”
Onslow Community Outreach serves about 93,000 meals per year and they provide emergency shelter for about 275 people every year. They also provide medical help for about 1,400 people every year, and assist people in finding jobs. Since the center is a non-profit organization, contributions from the community directly impact and make a difference in the lives of the people who step into the shelter.
Soup kitchen staff said someday they hope to be able to run the soup kitchen seven days per week and serve two meals a day instead of the one.
Many wishes are made and many prayers said at the shelter, from the kind hearts of the staff who cook each day for the hungry children that silently wait in line for a warm meal. For many of the children, the warmth felt in their stomachs is also felt in their hearts.
While other people wish for things such as new clothes, a car or a summer vacation, a plate of spaghetti, toast and corn is a wish come true for others.
“Just to look and see how appreciative these children are feels great,” said Amber Donaldson, a certified payroll manager with Lend Lease. “It’s so unfortunate that there are children that are so needy and it’s not noticed when you’re caught up in your own lifestyle. It’s kind of hard to take a step back and see the families that are less fortunate than us. Even if the funds dwindle away, maybe we can put such an impact within ourselves that we will keep supporting our local homeless shelter.”
For more information on Onslow Community Outreach call 455-5733.