It is hard to think that while the students of Western Carolina University left for the holidays, there were people in Jackson County who went hungry on Thanksgiving.
United Christian Ministries in Sylva is trying to fight this growing issue. And now, the Honor’s College at WCU decided to join in that fight.
According to their website, United Christian Ministries is a non-profit organization that helps to provide basic necessities such as food, toiletries, shelter, utilities, household items and medical help for families in need.
In a personal interview with the volunteers and staff, they explained that they also interview families so that they can assess their situation. Using that assessment, the organization can point them in the direction that might be most beneficial to them. They try to do this by referring them to organizations or programs that could be of further use to them, such as SNAP, WIC and food stamps through Social Services. They are also willing to suggest churches that could help them spiritually, but contrary to popular belief, they are not a congregation themselves. In their promotional pamphlet, the organization is united in the belief that their purpose to “serve Christ by being a voice and a help to people with urgent physical, economic, social or spiritual needs.”
It is no easy to task to provide these necessities day in and day out for those in need. Kathy Cross, the executive director of United Christian Ministries explained on her tour of their facilities that they have been running their food pantry since 1989. However, it is still a constant struggle to keep it in stock. Generous businesses such as Food Lion and Pizza Hut donate food a couple of times a week, but the bulk of the food come from individual donations.
Western Carolina’s Honor’s College stepped up to be of service as much as possible. This year, they elected that United Christian Ministries would be the charity they would assist, and so far, they have done an excellent job.
Beginning with a food drive for United Christian Ministries, the Honor’s College sponsored the event before they had decided to put their full support behind the group. All freshmen honors students were encouraged to participate for their Honor’s forum class. Many other students also made their way out to the Blue Ridge/Balsam archway early on a Saturday morning in support of the cause. It was a memorable college experience, especially for the students and faculty, who decided to stay and help unload the food once it got to the pantry. However, this event also spurred these students to action. The organization’s leaders informed the class that the truck load of collected food would feed the families of Jackson County for a few days.
Today, the Honor’s College has taken this cause and ran with it, and the volunteers at United Christian Ministries could not be happier with the results, explaining that the Honor College’s students and facilitators have put on events ranging from a Rummage Sale to raise money and a Thanksgiving dinner on campus to raise money. They also planned a Clean-Up Day where students went out to United Christian Ministries’s headquarters to help with cleaning, painting and organizing. Kathy Cross, executive director, also stated that some of the projects that they hope to put together in the near future include collecting and giving out food for Thanksgiving dinners to give to the families that they serve as well as providing Christmas book bags for school children. Cross added that normally, disadvantaged students are provided with book bags every week, filled with the food that they need to make sure that they and their families will be able to eat that week. However, since the holiday break continues for a few weeks, the Honor’s College wants to assist by collecting donations from the students of WCU to make sure that this happens.
If other WCU students wish to participate as well, United Christian Ministries need help whenever a student is able to provide assistance, and Cross would more than welcome any volunteers. The Honors College will also host many more events that benefit this cause in the coming months and next semester.
Donations are also vital. They always need of extra food, toiletries and other resources. Donation boxes are set up across campus, but if you cannot find one, you can always drop your donations by the Honor’s College offices or United Christian Ministries, which is located at 191 Skyland Dr. in Sylva.
The holiday season is all about being thankful for the things you have been given, whether that be your college education offered at WCU or even a plate of food that Jackson County members depend upon. This year, think about giving some of those blessings back to our community through United Christian Ministries. It will not only benefit the life of someone in need but could also leave a lasting impact on you as well.
For more information on United Christian Ministries, visit http://ucmhelp.com/volunteer.html or check out their Facebook page. To find out more about the county’s food crisis, see http://www.westerncarolinian.com/arts-and-entertainment/food-shortages-cause-concern-at-local-food-banks-1.2878917.