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Main Street Marketplace helps break the cycle of poverty while giving everyone a place at the table

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

CHINA GROVE — Imagine a place …

• Where neighbors can select groceries just as they would in a grocery store.

• Where people who receive services have input in the process.

• Where they can come together to break the cycle of poverty.

• Where everyone has a place at the table.

All this and more is happening at Main Street Marketplace in China Grove.

Formerly Main Street Mission, the marketplace and clothing center — called Main Street Threads — opened in July at 308 S. Main St.

F&M Bank is hosting a dedication and open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 25. It will include free hot dogs from the Hot Dog Shack, tours and a presentation.

The dedication caps a $400,000 capital campaign that helped the mission expand from its original location at 306 S. Main St. to the former laundromat next door.

The original site is now known as Main Street Meeting Place and will house classes and community programs.

One of those classes is Getting Ahead, designed to help participants get out of poverty by addressing issues such as food, housing, transportation, social support and employment. The ninth set of 15-week sessions begins Sunday.

Jeff Hubbard is a graduate of the first Getting Ahead class. He now is the organization’s director of operations, which means he does everything from picking up donated food to working with volunteers.

“I’ve made something out of myself,” says Hubbard, the married father of three. “I made a 180-degree turn. I’m happy with these ladies.”

The “ladies” he refers to are Anne Corriher, the mission’s executive director, and Hope Oliphant, program director. The three, along with numerous others, have worked tirelessly to get the marketplace up and running.

The marketplace is set up like a grocery store. Neighbors who need assistance receive a certain number of credits or “tabs” based on family size. They can spend all the tabs at once or come in several times during the month.

The marketplace has partnered with Healthy Rowan to create the tab system — healthier foods cost fewer tabs — and Food Lion donated food, money and movers as part of its $5,000 food pantry makeover. The donation was timely because summer months tend to be slow for food pantry donations.

A recent drive by postal workers added another 11,000 pounds of food.

The marketplace receives about 200 pounds of produce a day from Food Lion in China Grove. The produce is still edible but would otherwise be discarded.

“We do love donations of fresh produce and healthier options for our shelves,” Corriher said.

The marketplace is emphasizing fresh produce, meats, whole-grain breads, and lower-sodium and low-sugar canned foods.

Hubbard says he never knows what donations might come in. A truck driver recently dropped off three pallets of sweet peppers. Hubbard shared the bounty with No Way Jose’s Mexican restaurant across the street.

The marketplace received two pallets of Kefir milk smoothies and is giving those away.

The 2,600-square foot building houses not only the marketplace but a storage area with shelf after shelf of nonperishable items that used to be next door.

Oliphant gives a special shout-out to Alan Goodman, owner of Goodman Farm Supply, a few blocks away at 338 N. Main St., for helping move the shelves with a forklift. He donated hours for the move, she says.

“He told me, ‘Some things are more important than selling a tomato plant.’”

The South Rowan High School FFA recently brought in boxes of peppers and cartons of eggs. The students have been a partner with the mission for a long time, Corriher said.

Nick Golden, South Rowan’s cabinetry teacher, built all the shelving and the counter for Marketplace Threads, where clothing is available at reduced prices. Families also receive tabs there — 100 tabs per person per month.

“We get clothing donations every day,” Corriher said.

“We were busy,” Oliphant added. “We sold 50 shirts today.”

The clothing is grouped attractively just as in a retail store.

“I just like to make things look pretty,” Oliphant said.

Over the years, Corriher said, the mission has evolved to include more neighbor input and involvement.

“We want to keep them engaged because it is their place,” Corriher said.

Neighbors, for example, were interested in where the food comes from and how it is distributed. And while they were interested in cooking and nutrition classes, many neighbors have only a microwave — no stove or grill.

“This is all about choices,” Hubbard said. “It’s a dignity issue, too.”

With the missions’ evolution, its volunteers’ roles have changed as well. Donna Wilson has been a volunteer for about a year.

“This is my hometown, and I thought I needed to get involved, and I’m really glad I did,” said Wilson, who is retired from the school system. “I’m getting to know neighbors I’d never have a chance to get to know.”

Wilson completed the Bridge Builders training, which helps participants get out of poverty.

Class members have Hope Teams that continue to encourage them once the classes end, and Wilson also serves in that capacity.

Volunteers used to pack boxes for neighbors who came to get food. Now, they serve as personal shoppers.

“I actually prefer this,” Wilson said. “This is just a much more personal interaction.”

Frances Staton of Landis is a longtime volunteer. She works every Friday afternoon, stocking shelves and doing whatever needs to be done behind the scenes.

“I’m an old lady, and I have to keep moving,” she said when asked why she continues to volunteer.

Terry Bradley has volunteered on Fridays for the past six years. Each morning, he picks up food donations at Food Lion and puts them away. Bradley, who’s retired from Food Lion as a property manager, knows a thing or two about the grocery business. He loves the new building, he said.

“It’s modern, and there’s more room and more space. It has a grocery store atmosphere. Everything about it is a win-win.”

Tom Brooke agreed. A local attorney, he’s board president and the only remaining original board member.

“The new building gives us more visibility,” Brooke said, “and it helps us remove the stigma of going to a food pantry. The empowerment concept seems to be working. There’s less of a barrier between neighbors and volunteers. We will keep listening and keep evolving and changing.”

Main Street Marketplace’s hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with additional hours of 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday.

To volunteer or for more information, call 704-859-1898 or visit www.marketandmeeting.org.

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