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Roughly

30,000 people

in alamance county

are living in poverty

10,000

of those people
are children

This is the story
told by citizens in your community who are living in poverty and those who
are stepping up to help

Eve, Shelter Resident

Written by Tyler Ash

Even in the most trying times, Eve maintains an optimistic approach towards life. She resides at Allied Churches, a homeless shelter in Alamance County, N.C., along with her husband and baby daughter.

A "spiritual" individual, Eve belives her family has a great future ahead of them, despite their unideal living conditions. Her family is among the alarming 20 percent of Alamance County currently battling poverty. They are also representative of Alamance County's hunger crisis, which has seen a 50 percent increase in recent years.

Financial constraints forced the Eve, her husband and her newborn child into Allied Churches after weeks of "couch surfing" at friends' houses. While Eve's husband looks for work in the tree service during the day, she is left to take care of her daughter, one of just three infants living at the shelter.

"I dont get to spend much time with my husband," Eve said. "I miss being with him and my daughter at the same time."

Eve and her husband are also disconnected at night as men and women are prohibited from living together at Allied Churches. Eve recognizes how tough it is to look after her baby by herself, but stresses that her husband, who she claims is "devastated" at the limited time he gets to spend with his daughter, has matters much worse.

The inability to sleep in the same room with both her baby and husband is vexing for Eve, yet she believes her family was destined to Allied Churches for some purpose.

"My family is here for a reason."

Part of Eve's conviction that her family's fortunes will turn around can be attributed to her spiritual upbringing. Eve went to Church as a young child with her Dad on most Sundays. As a young adult, she participated in missionary work in Brazil.

Eve's life experiences have empowered her to uphold her hope and faith, no matter how arduous the circumstances may be.

"I put everything in my faith," Eve said. "My family will be very happy one day."

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Loaves & Fishes was a food pantry that served Alamance County for almost fifteen years before suddenly closing its doors in September of 2013.

The organization closed after negative speculation in the local press and a food source for roughly 7,000 Alamance County residents was suddenly gone. Allied Churches, the local homeless shelter, has since stepped up to pick up the slack.

Shannon, Food Pantry Coordinator

Written by Kate Nichols

Here is Shannon Smith scrambling in and out of the cemented rooms of Allied Churches with a clipboard in hand. She looks stressed yet composed, continually being bombarded by her employees with question after question.

"Where do I put these boxes?"

"When are we getting more food in?"

Smith is Allied Churches' Food Pantry Coordinator, which means that she is responsible for managing the church's volunteers. She is also the Food Service Coordinator, which makes her responsible for appealing to community members for donations.

"Normally we have like 30 people here a day," Smith said, "but it is the 3rd of the month and that's the day when people receive their different checks like disability and social security. It's been slow."

For a slow day, Smith is never standing still. She walks the church's grounds back and forth all day long, filing paperwork and training new volunteers. Smith contends that her days are always busy but never tedious.

"I come in and I organize the pantry and make sure we have enough good for the day," Smith said. "I am also making a menu for what we will be serving each day. Other than that, there's always something new going on."

Smith began her job with Allied Churches recently and has since made strong connections with her clients. While running around managing her numerous committees and supervising volunteers keeps her busy, she still made time to talk with the church's numerous occupants and visitors.

"We try to make this a really nice place for our people," Smith said. "The other day I went to a birthday party for a little girl who lives here. I watched her turn one. I watched her walk for the first time. We are always there for our clients."

Smith decided to get involved in the church because of her father's work as a minister. Growing up and listening to her father's sermons and frequently involving herself in community service through her childhood congregation, she know that she wanted to help

"After college I was a massage therapist," Smith said, "but I always felt like I could run but I couldn't hide [from helping others]. It was just something I felt I needed to do."

Before starting her position at Allied Churches, Smith worked for other local food pantry, Loaves and Fishes, which recently closed down. She worked for the non-profit corporation for 13 years and declares that its closing had terrible repercussions for those in need.

"It was hard," Smith said. "We have to turn people away when we don't have enough food or a place to stay. We try to make accommodations for them, but the closing [of Loaves and Fishes] hasn't made it easy."

Smith is passionate about her job, and for that reason is not the first to leave. At the end of the day, people begin to file into their cars, and Smith waves, but does not exit the building. It begins to get dark, but she continues to organize a few more boxes, unable to leave it until morning.

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Poverty in Alamance was not always the urgent issue that it is today. In just 10 years, poverty rates in the county doubled.

Alamance County poverty rates were at 9.4% in the year 2000 and climbed to 18.5% by 2010. In that same time span, the county employment rates grew from 3.2% to 13% and Alamance County residents receiving food stamps rose from 2% to 15%.

Latonya, Food Pantry Client

Written by Libby Gormley

April 4 was Latonya's first day back at Allied Churches after two months of being sick. She stands outside the brick building, waiting for her name to be called. It's about 4 p.m. Latonya walks here from home every day, receives a white trash bag full of boxes and cans of food, loads it into a red shopping cart and walks it to her mother's house down the street.

A few yards away a dozen others wait, sit on folding chairs underneath an awning, and two girls chase each other around the front lawn, giggling. Inside, a middle-aged woman struggles to provide the young volunteer the information needed to receive food: phone number, license, address. English is not her first language.

Pinned up on an open door of a small office is a white piece of paper with a message handwritten in black marker that reads: "TAKE WHAT YOU NEED." The bottom is cut into sections, and instead of phone numbers one would normally see on a sign like this, there are words on each strip. "HOPE," "LOVE," and "FAITH," remain attached. Two others have been torn off.

Latonya, who chose to withhold her last name, estimates she has been coming to Allied Churches for about two to three years.

While Latonya receives food stamps, they last her and her son only so long. Her boyfriend receives disability benefits, which Latonya said has helped, but it's not enough. "It's been OK since he's been on that, but when we pay our bills, there's nothing left really, so that's why I'm trying to look for a job," she says.

Job-hunting is what consumes most of Latonya's daily life, made difficult by a lack of transportation. She doesn't have a car, and while sometimes she can get a ride from a family member, they all work, so that doesn't happen often.

Last year, Latonya used the resources of Loaves and Fishes Christian Food Ministry, which closed its doors in September. "I miss that," she says. "It helped out a lot more than it does here. Oh man, that was a big help. When they closed, I just couldn't do nothing. I just had to stretch my food stamps."

While Allied Churches lacks the kind of quality meats that Loaves and Fishes provided, it does have a wealth of non-perishables to give. "That helps too," Latonya says.

Her son had turned 4 the previous day. "He's really hyper," she says. "I think he's gonna take a little bit after his daddy." His father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Latonya says, but thankfully, her son has been nothing but healthy.

"He hasn't been sick, and I thank God today that he ain't been sick. Everything's been ok," she said. Still, she worries. "I'm scared he's gonna hurt himself hes so hyper. I can't wait till he gets a little older. I think maybe he'll grow out of it."

Latonya visits her mother as often as she can. Her mother supports her when Latonya really needs money. "But I don't like depending on her because I'm gonna get older now. But, hey, sometimes I have to," said the 27-year-old.

Latonya is hopeful that the economy will get better. "Slowly," she added. "But now, it's standing still."

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Beth, Step Up Alamance

Written by Christopher Price

Fifteen years ago, Alamance County resident Beth Gurley and her husband made a decision that drastically changed their lives.

"It was a calling. I quit my job."

This now empty nester was once an average mother and wife. She had a normal job, normal home life with raising children and attended church weekly. But the sudden change in both her career and life came because of a single event.

She and her husband decided to take the extra step. Not being satisfied with only hearing what the preacher had to say, but out of curiosity, they put their beliefs into action and volunteered at a local homeless shelter.

She expected what everyone expects when they think of a homeless shelter: drug addicts, high school dropouts, alcoholics and people who've ultimately done something to deserve their current standing in society.

All of these, she witnessed. But seeing one class of people overcame her with grief.

"We were ambushed by children."

The helplessness that plagued their grim faces overwhelmed the Gurleys.

Beth originally thought whatever came of most homeless people was from their own doing, but seeing young children and adolescents suffering for their parents' sins opened her eyes and changed her perspective.

Willing and wanting to do whatever she could, this middle class mother and wife made a commitment in the 90s that lasted until today.

"We had a few ideas, and we wanted to test a specific one out. We talked to our pastor, and we talked to a homeless shelter. They said, 'We've been praying for this.'"

Beth coordinated with the same homeless shelter's directors. Soon after, they gave her the names of a safe, promising family that had been living in the shelter. She welcomed that family into her home.

"A family of four instantly became a family of nine."

This was the beginning of what is now known as Step up of Alamance.

Step up of Alamance is a nonprofit transformational ministry targeted at families trapped in the affliction of generational poverty. The ultimate goal is to re-train families, exhibiting a desire to change by showing them Christ-centered life skills.

She said she wanted to do more than hand a sandwich to a random person who'll need another one the next day. She wanted to not only teach him to make his own food, but also to provide for his family and "pay it forward."

The first step in doing this was the most difficult, and made this her mission when creating the nonprofit. She has several concise, but reasonable requirements for those wishing to be a part of the program.

"You must be in school, have a job, or are looking for one."

Those applying also must go through a referral process before even being considered. Due to financial constraints and limited support, Beth's organization can only host three houses. Their property and resources are limited, and aren't the average resource for just anyone looking for a free warm bed and breakfast.

She takes specific people in, mentors them through varying bible study plans, feeds and houses them for up to two years, and ultimately "lets God do the work."

"We focus on just being obedient to God's Word. Love God, love people. Love is an action."

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Alamance County residents have proven resilient by forming a united front against poverty and hunger. The stories shared here represent a fraction of the community who are battling these issues, and of those who have stepped up to help.

The Better Alamance: Stories Project wants to hear your story so that it might be shared to raise awareness and further unite the community.