Since 2010, Dawn Ellis has been working diligently to help end food insecurity in eastern Pender and Onslow counties. As the executive director of Share the Table, Ellis is growing the organization as the need continues to grow.
When Ellis first started offering free food for members of the community, “people were rushing to get to the food, and we realized the problem was greater than we thought,” she said.
That’s when Ellis became partners with the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina to ensure that people were able to get the food they needed.
“Share the Table Inc. is a faith-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization supported by seven charter churches, community churches, civic organizations and local businesses in Pender and Onslow counties in North Carolina,” according to its website.
The organization offers three different opportunities for people to obtain food. The Client Choice Food Pantry allows people to shop and choose what works best for their families to reduce food waste.
“There is more dignity in that, and volunteers get to know them and get to talk with them, and it is a great bonding experience for all. It is a special environment,” Ellis said.
The Meals Until No Child Hungers (MUNCH) Program provides elementary and middle school students with backpacks of food for the weekends and offers a food closet in high schools.
The third opportunity is the free community meal available at its facility on Sundays. Before Hurricane Florence, it was a sit-down meal, but the aftermath of the storm and the pandemic changed that, so now the organization offers to-go meals. Ellis hopes once the group’s new facility is ready, they will return to sit-down, shared meals.
With the help of numerous volunteers, the organization feeds an average of 1,000 people per week and is building a new headquarters on U.S. 17. The facility, Ellis said, will be just under 10,000 square feet, about three times as big as the space Share the Table has presently.
Ellis has a master’s degree in social work but never ran a nonprofit before embarking upon Share the Table. She credits the community for the success of the program.
The organization’s partnership with the food bank and grocery stores also helps support its mission. Ellis said monetary donations work best so Share the Table can buy food in bulk and pay bills to keep the operation running.
“It takes more than food to run a nonprofit. From utilities to dumpster fees, it takes more than food to do what we’re doing. Expenses and overhead are just 11% of the budget,” Ellis said.
The organization raised $1.3 million for the new facility, and it was awarded a small grant. Ellis said she is excited about the opportunities the new building will provide.
“When we have the new building,” she said, “I am excited to focus on educating, offer cooking and budgeting classes and expand the education part of this.”
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