By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — In a county that lags the state average in employment, the Grateful Heart Ministries Help Fair was a chance to bring two groups of people together: those in need and the people who want to help.
Held Saturday afternoon at the Rowan County Fairgrounds, the event included a distribution of free food from Grateful Heart’s pantry and offers of information and services.
Area health, public service, educational and charitable agencies — 30 in all — set up tables inside the exhibition hall, with representatives handing out information.
The event was slated to start at 1 p.m.
Sandy Moldovan of Rockwell was the first in line. She said she arrived at 8:45 a.m.
By 12:45 p.m., the line stretched most of the way across the fairgrounds, hundreds of people in all.
Moldovan said she’s retired, living on Social Security. In addition to food, which she said would be a blessing, she hoped to get information on assistance that might be available to help with her bills.
“Everything’s going up, except for us,” Moldovan said, a small smile on her face.
Willie Compton of Salisbury, another retiree, also said it was getting harder for senior citizens to survive.
“You get a check the first of the month, and by the end of the month you’re trying to stretch it out,” Compton said.
Seniors and families with children made up the majority of those in attendance.
Before 1 p.m., Pastor Johnny Morgan of Grateful Heart said his staff of volunteers were expecting to serve over 500 households.
Reached by phone Saturday evening, Morgan said his volunteers had counted over 1,600 individuals — well over their goal.
“All of the (representatives) said it was unbelievable, the outcome of it,” Morgan said.
Some ran low on brochures and information, and ran out of the freebies they’d brought to give away.
But there was plenty of food to go around — boxes filled with plastic grocery bags, tied shut.
In each bag were canned soups and vegetables, pasta and other staples.
Brenda Morgan, first lady of Grateful Heart Ministries, said their partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank and Feed America was continuing to grow.
Based in Granite Quarry, the group operates an emergency food pantry and offers temporary housing for the homeless, among other services.
Johnny Morgan said they have been working with the American Red Cross and hope to expand to offer short-term housing to those who’ve lost their homes to fire.
He went on to name other community services — a year-round school supply bank, clothing assistance — that are in the works.
Brenda Morgan said that’s just the way her husband thinks.
“He likes to stir the waters!” she said.
That is, he likes to get things moving, bringing people together, she explained.
For Libby Stowe and her children, the Help Fair was a chance to take charge of her family’s future.
“My husband was laid off, and then got deathly ill,” Stowe said.
She and her kids smiled as they received their donation of food, then set off to find information on family assistance.
The thing they need most, she said, was help with their bills.
“We just take one day at a time,” Stowe said. “It’s what you have to do.”
Local health care agencies, including The Arc of Rowan and Community Care Clinic, were on hand to let people know about specialized services.
Some traveled from outside the area. Representatives from the N.C. Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing helped inform people about their resources, such as free and low-cost hearing aids.
Speaking through a sign-language interpreter, Brenda Lusk said many hard-of-hearing individuals had inquired.
“I’m sure our office phone will be ringing off the phone next week,” Lusk said.
For those who came, the Help Fair may be a step toward a better life.
Whatever comes tomorrow, Moldovan said, “it’s a blessing that there are people willing to do this,” Moldovan said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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