CORA Goes Mobile

Mobile Markets become a lifeline to parts of the Chatham community

Marina Garcia Garillo, of Siler City, is disabled, lives alone, and each month when she receives her disability check, she says it’s never enough. She doesn’t remember the last time she had a hamburger – her favorite food – and when she’s craving one she’ll drive somewhere where she can smell them cooking.

Marina has been a client of CORA’s food pantry for 6 years, and recently, the Mobile Market. She enjoys the variety of foods available, and the accessibility and ease of the Mobile Market. And occasionally, when luck is on her side, ground beef will be available through CORA and she’ll cook a burger at home.

CORA is one of United Way of Chatham County’s highest funded agencies. United Way funding will provide 16,500 individuals and 1,250 children with food this year. Whether it’s through the pantry in Pittsboro, or through their Mobile Market, United Way helps ensure food is available to those in need in our community.

The Mobile Market is a fairly new avenue CORA is using to reach people who live in food deserts, or in the western part of Chatham County and are unable to drive to the pantry in Pittsboro. It began in October 2019 in the parking lot of Chatham Hospital, set up like a farmer’s market. Once the pandemic began, the market was halted in March 2020. COVID-19 presented a number of problems for CORA, with the first main obstacle being the food supply chain.

“It was broken,” said Melissa Driver Beard, CORA’s Executive Director. “The week I realized COVID was getting real, we placed an order (for food). Right on the heels of that order, we placed a second order.”

Driver Beard said food orders were typically supposed to be received within 10 days of order. The March order she received in April, and the April order she received in July. Grocery stores were ordering up all of the food and not much was available. CORA was able to purchase some food the schools would have normally used, and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC was able to increase the amount of food they gave to CORA. The rest of what they needed they received from the community.

“We had amazing community support,” she said. “We were drowning in produce from local farmers – it was a great problem to have. Had it not been for food donations last March through July, I’m not certain we would have been able to serve everyone in need. The supply chain was horribly broken during that time period.”

Monetary donations during the pandemic also flew in for CORA, including $3,000 from the United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund that served 600 people.

The Mobile Market started up again one month later in April (2020) on Technology Way in Siler City. The market now operates as a drive-thru.

In May of 2020 CORA’s Mobile Market served 170 families in two hours. In May of 2021 CORA’s market served 114 families – 70 of those families were served in 40 minutes. Six CORA staff and 5-10 community volunteers keep it running smoothly each month. And recently CORA has tested its Mobile Market in other areas, proving to be the biggest success in The Nature Trail community north of Pittsboro, where it will now remain a permanent location for the market.

“At our first Mobile Market at Nature Trail we nearly ran out of food,” said Rebecca Hankins, Development and Communications Director of CORA. “Over the past two months we have served 850 individuals and believe we are having the greatest impact at this location. We are not done growing the program yet – CORA is also looking at additional strategic points around the county where food insecurity is high.”

“When transportation is your block (from food), going to people is super important,” said Kristine Ashwood, Operations Director for CORA. “Mobile Markets have become a really significant part of where we are heading.”

While the Mobile Market is expanding, so are CORA’s services in Pittsboro. A new building will soon house all of CORA’s food, including walk-in and wall freezers and coolers. CORA’s clients will be able to shop in the new building, with roomy grocery store aisles – which is much different than the multiple roomed food labyrinth that currently exists in CORA’s current building. A renovation to a back portion of CORA’s current building will include a reception and waiting area for its clients, and also a children’s play and enrichment area.

The United Way’s 2020 Day of Service provided a new sidewalk outside the main entrance to CORA, and a proposed 2021 Day of Service project will fill holes in the asphalt outside the building, which will be much safer for their clients, volunteers and staff.

Beard said CORA is entrenched in the Chatham community, and its success is a direct result of its supporters.

“Everybody sort of grasps hunger,” she said. “The volunteers here are phenomenal and so committed. I’ve never seen volunteers that are so dedicated – it kind of blows my mind.” She also credits CORA’s success to its Board of Directors, and the incredible staff.

For Marina Garcia Garillo and so many in Chatham County, CORA is a lifeline.

“Everything is so expensive, and it’s getting worse and worse,” Marina said. “CORA is a great help.”

The United Way of Chatham County’s 2021 Impact Fund supports 22 programs from 16 nonprofits in Chatham County. CORA will receive $40,000 from United Way this year, and an estimated 17,750 people will be served. To learn more about the United Way of Chatham County, please visit www.unitedwayofchathamcounty.org or call the office at 919-542-1110.

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