First Posted: 12/4/2009
One by one they came to Veterans Memorial Park Friday. Small cars and big cars. Older cars and newer ones, even some luxury models. Pickups, vans and even a couple of scooters. Hundreds of vehicles in all.
Their drivers all had the same goal in mind: receiving bags and boxes of free government-surplus foods that many are depending on to help them survive a persistently bad economy.
And although Fridays giveaway of commodities in Mount Airy wasnt scheduled to begin until 9 a.m., many of the recipients had arrived much earlier.
They were lined up at 2 a.m., said Lorene Jones, commodity distribution coordinator for Surry County. When my staff got here (at 6 a.m.), Jones added, there were cars everywhere.
Staff members asked those in line how long they had been waiting, and learned that it had been several hours. And it was below freezing last night, the coordinator said.
Those subjecting themselves to the wait in the cold werent doing so for concert or sports tickets, or even a bargain at a store but badly needed groceries.
Kim Brown of Mount Airy was one of those who came. She was spotted alone in her car, reading a paperback book to pass the time, pausing momentarily to discuss being at the food distribution Friday.
A year ago, I lost my husband to cancer I lost my home a month ago, Brown said in describing her financial circumstances. She was there to pick up food not only for herself, but a daughter, a sister and the sisters daughter. There are seven children in the group, said Brown, who worked at Brown Wooten Mills for 35 years before losing her job.
We all lost our jobs due to the economy, she added of the adults in her family. All returned to school to get college degrees, including Brown, who obtained a business degree. But we still have not found work. Brown said shes counting on God to change things for the better.
John Griffith of Mount Airy was another person sitting in a car in a slow-moving bumper-to-bumper line that seemed to snake its way around every square-foot of the large park on West Lebanon Street.
I got here about 6:30, Griffith said at around 10:30 a.m. This is the third time I have done this, and it seems like it grows every time. Its just unbelievable.
Griffith said he is on disability due to a bad car accident in the 1990s, and that the free food does much to help him make ends meet. Its a blessing, he said of the distribution open to any Surry County resident meeting income guidelines. Its just a blessing to be able to put food on the table.
This is a blessing for everybody cause theres so many people that need help right now, Griffith continued. Its good to have.
Each qualifying household was issued four whole chickens, green beans, tomato sauce, walnuts, orange juice, pears, beef stew, pork, milk, rotini, oats, rice, peanut butter and roasted peanuts. Ham was scheduled to be distributed as well, but was not shipped in time for this weeks distribution, according to Jones, the coordinator.
In all, 90,026 pounds of commodities valued at more than $53,000 were available for distribution this week in Surry.
And those getting the items Friday were thankful, including one older man who watched volunteers place food in the trunk of his car with a badly faded paint job.
I appreciate it, the man told them. Yall have a merry Christmas.
Jones was expecting that a record turnout would be seen by the end of Fridays distribution, which officially was scheduled to last until noon. Her prediction was based on response at another food giveaway Thursday in Elkin, to 600 families. Preparations were made to serve about another 1,200 households in Mount Airy Friday, which Jones said would take the two-day total close to 2,000. Final figures will not be available until next week.
We gave everything away but the paint yesterday, Jones said, explaining that volunteers were down to only milk and chicken for those last in line in Elkin. Fridays distribution at Veterans Memorial Park was set to continue until every client had been served or the food supplies were exhausted. The coordinator said she was praying there would be enough available to help everyone.
She was thankful for the relatively good weather on Friday, though the park grounds were still muddy from heavy rain on Wednesday.
Jones also was appreciative for a decision that had been made by the Surry County Board of Commissioners which ensured the holding of food giveaways in the county. The coordinator explained that each county is allotted food through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but most surrounding counties have their share sent to a food bank in Winston-Salem.
The Surry commissioners elected to have the food distributed locally, thereby preventing residents from traveling to Winston-Salem to receive commodities.
I just think that our commissioners show great wisdom in keeping that program in Surry County, Jones said.
The next food giveaway will be held in February.
The coordinator further praised the contribution made by about 150 volunteers high school JROTC members, church groups and others who help package the food and distribute it in Mount Airy and Elkin.
That included about 25 JROTC representatives from East Surry High School who assisted with Fridays effort at Veterans Memorial Park.
Its good weve helped needy people, said J.J. DeGraff, 17, battalion commander, and its so close to the holidays. Were doing as much as we can.
DeGraff continued, We do this twice a semester. You get out of class, plus you have the satisfaction that youre helping people.
The ESHS student said his experience with the program has made him and other young people aware of a crisis faced by too many Surry County families. Ive been doing this since my freshman year … and more and more people are coming out, said the JROTC member, now a senior, who added that Fridays attendance maintained that trend.
This is the worst Ive ever seen.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.