SILER CITY — The mouth-watering aroma of barbecue and the support of the community was in abundance at Love Chatham’s first ever Chicken Plate fundraiser, which was organized to help raise money for the Siler City-based organization.
Hundreds of people came to Freedom Family Church on Saturday afternoon to feast on freshly grilled chicken cooked by Love Chatham’s Executive Director Dakota Philbrick and some of his volunteers and friends at Love Chatham.
“I’m just thrilled to see it all come together,” Philbrick said. “As executive director for Love Chatham and seeing families being here, young men and women, several groups that are coming in to volunteer, it’s a blessing.”
The event was planned throughout the summer by Love Chatham’s Summer Intern Mary Lacey Eubanks. With the fundraiser as her “capstone project,” Eubanks was tasked with organizing a fundraiser to benefit Love Chatham — a nonprofit dedicated to combating homelessness and food insecurity through its various ministries — and securing donations for the fundraiser, which included enough chicken from Mountaire Farms to feed around 500 people.
“I couldn’t be happier right now about how it’s really going and coming together,” Eubanks said. “It’s just so cool to see everyone here — the volunteers and also the guests coming. It’s just great to see people actually showing up and it be successful.”
The scene at Freedom Family Church was organized and down to the point — a group of men stood by the grill, seasoning and cooking the chicken. Volunteers then moved in an assembly line formation to plate chicken meals, which included two sides, a dinner roll and a dessert. From there, volunteers would distribute the food to people who purchased a meal ticket, which Love Chatham sold nearly 300 of before Saturday.
“I think we’ve really got the volunteers tied in and the guests,” Eubanks said. “They know where their money’s going, and they know what they’re supporting. We’re hoping to be able to talk to more guests this afternoon and have meaningful conversations about Love Chatham and its mission.”
Love Chatham’s Board President Ben Suggs, who also serves as the pastor at Freedom Family Church, said events like Saturday’s help to bring community awareness to Love Chatham’s purpose and the issues it’s working to mitigate.
“It’s so important for people to know and understand what we do because I think there are other people that want to be involved in that too,” Suggs said. “The scope of people that we can help is going to multiply the more our awareness multiplies.”
Some of Saturday’s volunteers have been with Love Chatham since the beginning, including board member Donald Southern.
“We’ve had a longtime dream to help people have a place to go for the homeless,” Southern said. “We believe in what we’re doing, we know this is the answer. If we can do this, we can help others do the exact same thing.”
Other volunteers on Saturday decided to dedicate their time to the fundraiser for more personal reasons. For Krystal Handley, she’s experienced financial insecurity first-hand.
“We’ve even thought we were gonna get our house foreclosed on, we’ve been in that situation, and everybody’s almost one paycheck away from being in the same situation,” Handley said. “This is our way to be able to give back because we know where everybody’s coming from.”
Handley said she also wants to help address a lot of the misconceptions surrounding impoverished people.
“A lot of people didn’t hear or know about us, and if so, they may have a bad perspective when it comes to homeless people,” she said. “Then when you see people actually supporting us, it’s a great thing to know that your community has banded together to do those kinds of things for one another.”
Love Chatham Volunteer Sandee Davis joined in Saturday’s efforts to help remove the stigma surrounding individuals experiencing homelessness.
“People assume it’s because of drugs or being an alcoholic, or just being in trouble,” Davis said. “But no, things happen, and when COVID happened, a lot of people went without.”
According to a survey released by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased by over 2% in early 2020, not accounting for those who lost their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 106,000 children were homeless. Additionally, a disproportionate percentage of individuals experiencing homelessness were people of color, with 39% of the homeless population in the U.S. being Black and 23% being Hispanic or Latinx.
“A lot of people don’t know just how many homeless people there are in Chatham County,” Davis said. “People need to know a lot of people that are homeless are not by choice.”
Davis said she hopes events like Saturday’s fundraiser will help to not only bring awareness to Love Chatham, but also help people recognize homelessness is a real issue in Chatham County.
“The community can come and see that we’re prospering … because we’re making an impact in somebody’s life,” she said. “We love the Lord and we love people — doesn’t matter race, color, creed, it does not matter. We just have love for the people.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.
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