CRESTON-More than 60 families in one of the most remote parts of Ashe County got a little help from their friends this week.
Loaded down with several thousand pounds of food, the Ashe County Sharing Center brought its mobile pantry caravan to tiny Creston on Oct. 19, as part of the center’s northwest Ashe food delivery program.
Launched earlier this year, it’s an effort designed to help feed folks in some of the county’s most hard-to-reach areas.
Around 10 a.m. on the third Monday of each month, the center sets up shop at the Creston Volunteer Fire Department. And there’s usually a full parking lot of people waiting on them to arrive, according to Michael Sexton, executive director of the Ashe Sharing Center.
“These are some of the most gracious people you’ll ever meet out here,” Sexton said. “But some of them do need a little help, which is the entire reason we started this effort.”
Near the state’s borders with Virginia and Tennessee, the tiny community covers some of the county’s roughest terrain – and there’s no real easy way to get to it. Much of Creston lies roughly halfway between Mountain City, TN and West Jefferson, and it’s not close to either.
Driving along curvy NC-88, it takes nearly a half hour to reach parts of Creston from West Jefferson.
And that’s a problem for hungry families, some without reliable transportation, Sexton said. Roughly a quarter of the area’s residents were at or below the poverty level, according to 2013 statistics, and more than 70 homeowners had no car at all.
“That’s exactly who we’re looking to help,” Sexton said in previous interviews. “We targeted this area because there is only one other food pantry up here, and it’s hard for some of these folks to make it into West Jefferson on a consistent basis.”
The Sharing Center is one of a number of custom-built local charities designed to tackle specific challenges facing Ashe County. Founded in 1983 as a local charity with a broad mission to help those in need, the center refocused its mission on feeding the hungry.
Since then, it’s been able to launch multiple pantry projects, most recently a kids’ pantry at Mountain View Elementary.
Kelly Vannoy, who chairs the Sharing Center’s board of directors, said the creation of a mobile pantry program had been on the center’s to-do list for several years. The group had spoken with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina about the idea for at least two years, Vannoy said, but finally got the spark it needed to move forward with the project after earning more than $20,000 in grant funding through the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge late last year.
And the group used those dollars, and private donations, to raise the money it needed to buy a cargo van to finally get the project off the ground in March.
“You want to talk about blessed? That’s how we’ve felt ever since,” Vannoy said. “I really feel like it’s already helping us make a big impact.”
This week, a dozen Sharing Center volunteers made the drive to Creston and Lansing for the monthly food drop. They were loaded with donation boxes – they’re heavy enough you need both hands to haul them around – filled with a mixed assortment of canned goods along with things like ears of corn, bags of potatoes, a dozen eggs, cereal, fruit, frozen meat and giant heads of cabbage.
The center’s volunteers are mostly, like Leonard Andreucci and his wife Carolyn Andreucci, retired and looking to give back after long, successful careers.
“You know you work, you spend all this time providing for your family – and that’s important,” Andreucci said. “But in some ways I wish God gave us three or four ‘do-overs,’ so we could get done everything that needs to be done, things like this.”
Sexton estimated each package might be worth $75, and the pantry might have given away more than 100 in the hour it was stationed in Creston this week. He said the deliveries aren’t meant to hold families over for an entire month, nor does it affect their eligibility for the Sharing Center’s main West Jefferson hub.
“This isn’t an either/or thing,” Sexton said. “Anybody that comes here can also drop by the Sharing Center for food, too. We simply knew what a challenge it was for folks here to make it in to town, which was why this mobile pantry was started in the first place. Anybody that needs it, we’re going to do our best to help.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.