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Making a different commitment: Runners set new marks at Rowan Helping Ministries

Through January and February, the 2020 road racing season was off to a great start. Salisbury’s signature running event, Winter Flight, had been a huge success in late January and the popular Will Run for Food 5K at Centenary Methodist Church kept the momentum going. Great things were expected with at least 25 races scheduled for the remainder of the year. The real winners would be all the charities receiving the proceeds.

By mid-March the races were on hold and all the early momentum for local races had vanished. Of course, runners kept running but the measure of their efforts was stymied for the foreseeable future.

Out of the adversity came an opportunity. Kyna Grubb, Rowan Helping Ministries executive director and Salisbury Rowan Runners member, asked the club in early April to consider volunteering to serve lunches. SRR had served several times over the previous year and enjoyed it. But with the virus outbreak, lots of the regular volunteers were no longer working. Most of the lunch serving days were open, a far cry from the usual when the calendar fills well ahead of time.

Normal lunch servings, including preparation, take 4-5 volunteers and 2½ to 3½ hours commitment for each person. Preparation includes a myriad of tasks, nothing hard, and volunteers are always mentored by an RHM kitchen staff member. SRR wanted to help out with supplying some of the food, usually salad fixings, watermelon, apples or something similar. The rest of the food came from the storage cooler and pantry.

Meal serving time. From left: Amanda Lewis, RHM volunteer Phyllis Thomside, Linda Sufficool, RHM volunteer Annie Rivers, Luann Fesperman and Adalie Harrison. Submitted photo.

With about 150 members of all ages, SRR certainly had enough manpower to help. Two of our board members declined and at least a couple more were reluctant to help out. No one knew what to expect with the virus. Then 18-year-old Adalie Harrison was the first to volunteer, followed by Luann Fesperman, Amanda Lewis and Linda Sufficool. This same group, labeled the A-Team, served from April through the summer. Most weeks, the A-Team served 2-3 lunches. Harrison said, “It’s something we can do!” I think all of us agreed that with the races on hiatus, this was our way to fill a big community need.

Harrison left for college at Lenoir-Rhyne in late summer and some of the other regulars took some time for other things, but we kept serving. A few more club members started helping and then a few more. During the fall and winter, more than 20 additional members have helped out. The need to serve grew to as often as four times a week. Some of our races have started again, and we’ve worked the planned race and then headed for the RHM kitchen.

Fesperman said, “Before serving there, I had no idea that RHM did so much for our community in need. Serving also provided an opportunity to get to know some of the SRR members better. We’ve had fun working with the SRR members, RHM staff and other volunteers that help serve.”

And it has been fun! Harrison was designated the SRR director of hair and hair nets, certainly a required position. Fesperman quickly earned the coveted spot of SRR director of punctuality since she almost always arrives late. Sufficool assumed overall responsibility as SRR director of everything. Her likeness is now posted in the kitchen.

Grubb said, “At the start of the pandemic when dedicated volunteers were reluctantly walking away from serving because of health concerns, Salisbury Rowan Runners dashed in to fill their vacated meal times to ensure our shelter guests and community guests never missed a meal in Jeannie’s Kitchen. Less than a year later we are celebrating this team as they serve their 100th meal and sprint past 1,000 hours of service. We are blessed to have amazing partners like the Salisbury Rowan Runners Club.”

Lewis, designated SRR director of meal planning for her culinary knowledge, said, “Serving at RHM has been a huge positive during the pandemic. We have had a blast getting to know shelter residents and staff as well as growing closer to other members of our group. We have had lots of laughter, increased our knowledge of the kitchen, but most importantly witnessed first-hand the hope, support, encouragement, and guidance RHM provides to our community.”

Reluctance to help out at Jeannie’s Kitchen and other volunteer efforts at Rowan Helping Ministries is slowly fading. The week before last, SRR only was needed for one day. But this past week and again next week, we were needed three times each. As various churches and civic groups return to volunteer, be assured that all the protocols for safety are followed at every function. Not a single one of our volunteers has declined to return after helping out.

Rowan Helping Ministries Director of Communications Betsy Warner said, “We love getting to spend more time with the positive energy and joy ya’ll bring to us and our shelter guests.”

Kitchen Manager Cheryl Linder added, “”It means a lot to Jeannie’s Kitchen to have such an engaging and energetic group like Salisbury Rowan Runners. It has been my pleasure to get to know them and what they do as an organization to help our community.”

We appreciate the kind words and recognition! But the need still remains, and we hope to see others join us to fill all those empty slots.

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