WNC Communities (WNCC) supports community development and agriculture throughout the region and works deep in the grassroots through a network of 70 volunteer-driven community centers. Like many organizations, WNCC’s first interaction with Dogwood Health Trust was through the ION grants. “We applied for funds to assist our communities with strategic planning, but also worked with communities to submit their own grants. Including WNCC, ten ION grants were awarded to our community network,” says Terri Wells, Director of Community and Agricultural Programs.
But when COVID-19 hit, Wells and WNCC Board Vice President L.T. Ward shifted gears, reaching out to Dogwood to partner in the distribution of food to hard-hit communities. “We realized we had the connection with the ag community and the wide distribution network. As L.T. likes to say, we were ‘opportunity ready,’” says Wells. “We created a pop-up shop on our website for orders of chicken, then for 700 whole hogs. This protein, as well as farmer-to-family produce boxes, were distributed through our community centers.”
Wells and WNCC also became Dogwood’s first key partner for Census outreach. “I had been pushing the Census with our communities already, and some of them were working hard, but all on a volunteer basis,” says Wells. “By the time I talked with Betsey at Dogwood, I had keen awareness of how our communities were being impacted by COVID. Many rent their centers to pay light bills and keep the doors open, and they couldn’t do that now. The amount of hours they put in on the produce boxes and the Census – it’s all volunteer. A light bulb went off for me, because this Census approach gives them extra incentive that goes right back into their communities. Those who didn’t realize how important their centers are now see themselves as important hubs – distributing food boxes and getting people counted to help WNC, our counties and bringing in much needed financial help. It’s a win all the way around, leveraging money into the region and at the same time directly helping people in need.”
Wells also notes that Dogwood’s investment allows communities to spend the funds they earn in the ways they see best. For example, the Holly Springs Community Center in Macon County created emergency food boxes to help families in crisis.
“When this organization started 70 years ago, leaders like George Cecil realized it shouldn’t be top-heavy, and that people in their communities know their communities best, and what will work well there,” says Wells. “If you trust them, the majority of people rise to those good expectations. They want to be helpful and make their communities proud.”
“When this organization started 70 years ago, leaders like George Cecil realized it shouldn’t be top-heavy, and that people in their communities know their communities best, and what will work well there. If you trust them, the majority of people rise to those good expectations. They want to be helpful and make their communities proud.”
Three McDowell County communities.
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