Fortunes turn for CUOC

Agency renews financial aid, sees donations increase
Aug. 08, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Those who need some extra help with their rent or utilities in the coming months might find it at the Christians United Outreach Center of Lee County.

The charity is bringing back its previously canceled financial aid program, although it will be with more limitations than in the past. Previously, families could ask CUOC for help twice. But because so many people used the services — two years ago, the group reportedly gave out more than $37,000 in increments of $100 or $150 at a time — the assistance with rent or utilities is now open only to Lee County residents who have never used it before.

Teresa Kelly, the group's executive director, said she hopes the change will make the program more stable in the future.

"We have budgeted for at least six months," she said Wednesday. "That was one reason we delayed a little longer (in bringing the aid back). We didn't want to start and then stop again."

But help with rent or utilities isn't the organization's primary service, which is distributing provisions through its food bank at 1885 Lee Avenue at a rate of hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. The food bank is open Mondays from 4:30-6 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:30-2 p.m.

In addition to giving away its regular boxes of food, the organization is also dealing with literally tons of sweet potatoes dropped off by the state food bank. Kelly said after her volunteers and people from other charities around town took all they needed, about half of the 36,000-pound mountain of tubers is left over. So anyone who wants some sweet potatoes — whether it's to eat, use as deer bait, feed to farm animals or for anything else — is welcome to grab some.

"We just want them to go to use, and not just sit and rot on the ground," Kelly said.

But the group's latest bounty is a slight deviation from recent history. Kelly sent out an open letter at the beginning of August saying that while the CUOC had a record number of volunteers and a near-record amount of families served and food distributed in 2012, it also saw a downturn in donations of food and money.

To cope with the drop in supplies, the organization instituted stricter guidelines — dictating that all clients must have at least applied for food stamps and cutting back the amount of times each family could pick up food each month.

But Kelly said the future is now looking brighter. Several corporate groups have contributed lately, and she said individuals are also doing more to help — especially the Lights on Broadway group, which she credited for contributing a lot of publicity to CUOC and its mission.

That group of Broadway residents is putting on the Down South Music Festival, which will feature The Charlie Daniels Band and other local acts during a concert Aug. 17 in Sanford, with proceeds going to CUOC. In addition, three dozen food collection sites in Lee and Moore counties have been set up for the charity, and several area radio stations are reportedly planning live broadcasts around town to help out.

"It's a blessing to us," Kelly said. "We're just tickled for all the attention."

The first local radio event is happening this afternoon, when Fayetteville's Q98 variety music station visits the Walmart parking lot from 4-6 p.m. Patrick Jackson, marketing and promotions director with Cumulus Media, the station's parent group, said it will be doing a live show, collecting food and giving away tickets to see Charlie Daniels,

"The mechanics of it haven't been decided yet, but we are going to be giving away some Charlie Daniels tickets — VIP tickets," Jackson said Tuesday.

Tim Copas, a local businessman who is helping lead several of these donation pushes, said he's hoping that the various collection sites will bring in 200,000 pounds of food for CUOC — which is about what it distributes every four months — by the day of the concert.

"The food drive — I think we'll really throw some gasoline on it with these live remote (radio shows)," he said, "really get the word out."