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Local food pantry offers choice for clients

Families in need will soon have their choice of groceries at the food pantry run by Christians United Outreach Center of Lee County.

After years of planning, the nonprofit finally opens its revamped food pantry Monday. Shelves full of pasta, beans and fresh fruits and vegetables will be available to “shoppers” who can pick and choose what to take home.

“Some our clients, their family might not eat green beans, but they might want red beans or kidney beans,” said Executive Director Theresa Kelly. “It does cut down on the waste that we have and they get more control over, ‘OK, this is what my family will eat.’ ”

The grocery-style “store” takes the place of the nonprofit’s thrift shop, which moved last year to a storefront in Jonesboro. Moving the thrift shop created space in the Lee Avenue warehouse for the food pantry and staff and volunteer offices.

The bright, open floor is a welcoming area for clients who can also find help paying their bills and getting medical assistance.

The food pantry itself will remain open from 4-6 p.m. Mondays and noon-2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. The amount of food people can take home depends on the size of their family, Kelly said. Volunteers will be on hand to help people pick out food and make suggestions.

One of the goals of the new pantry is to help people eat healthier, Kelly said. The shelves aren’t only lined with canned goods, but also tips for improving health through diet and recipe cards for healthy meals using pantry items.

Alyssa Anderson, of the Lee County Cooperative Extension, will also be making regular visits to the pantry for cooking demonstrations, Kelly said.

Kelly said she hopes the increased choice will help attract more people in need to the food pantry.

Renovation of the pantry was helped along by the Jonesboro and Sanford rotary clubs, which repainted the space and purchased the shelves, and the Food Bank Central & Eastern NC, which purchased two large coolers for items like eggs, butter and cheese.

Recently, Pfizer also awarded the pantry a $10,000 grant to help them purchase fresh food and produce from local farmers, Kelly said.

“It has just all kind of come together,” Kelly said. “It has been years coming.”

People who have limited mobility will still be able to pick up boxes of food at the nonprofit’s drive-thru, according to Kelly. Volunteers can also bring out boxes of food to people who are not yet comfortable entering the building because of COVID-19.

School board approves mental health improvement plan

A plan to improve the social, emotional and mental health of Lee County students was unanimously approved by the Lee County Board of Education during its regular meeting Tuesday.

The plan, mandated by the state, includes a suicide risk referral protocol and mental health training for teachers and staff dealing with children in grades K-12. The additional training will address suicide prevention, substance abuse, teenage dating violence and sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention, according to the plan.

The district already has several mental health programs in place, including a mandatory seminar for students found in possession of drugs or alcohol; trauma training for staff at B.T. Bullock and Tramway Elementary schools; and district-wide training on bullying, child abuse and other issues.

The plan recommends trauma and resilience training for all district staff, teaching social and emotional health in the classroom and increased efforts to identify at-risk students early.

One challenge to mental health care is also the shortage of specialized mental health staff, the plan noted. During discussion Tuesday, board member Sherry Womack also questioned if the school district employs enough counselors and social workers.

The district currently has 24 counselors and six social workers, according to Johnnye Waller, assistant superintendent of Auxiliary Services and director of Student Services. That’s more than some districts, but still below the state-recommended ratio, according to Womack.

Chairwoman Sandra Bowen and board member Christine Hilliard noted that the district is limited by their local budget. The school board has previously petitioned the Lee County Board of Commissioners for money to hire additional support staff with no success. One alternative may be to use federal COVID-19 money to hire additional positions. Superintendent Andy Bryan said staff have been discussing the hiring of more counselors, social workers and nurses.

The plan drew some concerns from residents of Lee County, including Sandra Jones, who commented Tuesday that she was worried about the confidentiality of student mental health records. Waller reassured the board that records kept by support staff are almost entirely digital and accessible only to mental health staff.”

“The only persons that have access to those documents are myself, as I have countywide access to PowerSchool, and the counselor or social worker at that school,” Waller said. “I am confident there is not a group of counselors, social workers, mental health personnel in the country that values confidentiality any more (than we do).”

New board attorney officially hired

A contract for the school board’s new attorney, Stephen Rawson of Tharrington Smith, was also approved Tuesday. Jimmy Love, who has represented the board for more than 40 years, retires from Lee County Schools on June 30. Love will continue his work as attorney for Central Carolina Community College, he said.

The contract reflects the rates Tharrington Smith initially presented to the board — the law firm will charge $235 per hour for legal work by partners, $210 per hour for associates and $110 per hour for paralegals. The firm also charges for travel time.

Before voting in favor of the contract Tuesday, Womack asked that the firm provide a monthly invoice detailing their hours of work and charges, per a recommendation by the N.C. School Boards Association. Chairwoman Sandra Bowen was amenable to the recommendation, but said the change should come from the policy committee rather than be made a part of the contract.

Also Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved the purchase of 25 Apple computers for the Career and Technical Education lab at Lee County School. The computers currently used by the school are more than 10 years old, said program Director Gary Hart.

The total cost of the computers is $82,974, and also includes two MacBook pros for the instructors at Lee County and Southern Lee high schools, Hart said.

“Those will be used to do some research for us,” he said. “With Apple coming to the Research Triangle, we’re looking at maybe adding some programming courses (and) cybersecurity courses to our program. There are some free resources over the summer these instructors can take advantage of and give us some feedback if this is a good area for us to pursue.”

Also Tuesday, the board of education approved:

• a $141,135, five-year contract with software company EMS-LINQ for new financial software for the Child Nutrition Department;

• the purchase of 1,000 Chromebooks at a cost of $245,960;

• a $43,290 contract with tech company Clark Powell to replace the audiovisual system in the Lee County High School board room;

• a $31,800 contract with plumbing company Baker Mechanical to install water bottle filler stations in the central office, bus garage and maintenance shop;

• vehicle and general liability insurance for the Lee County Schools 2021-22 school year at a total cost of $76,955; and

• a date for an online auction to sell surplus vehicles, mowers and other Lee County Schools equipment no longer in use. The auction starts at 9 a.m. June 28. Visit govdeals.com/LeeCountySchoolsNC on the day of the auction to bid.

Event to showcase resources for struggling teens
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Lee County residents can learn about resources available for the community’s youth at a Saturday event sponsored by the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and the Sheriff’s Office.

“Our goal is to let the community know what resources are available for them,” said Pam Glover, chairwoman of the JCPCs. “A lot of people think there are no resources.”

The Community Resource Event, absent in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at the M.T. Burch Center, 1122 Boykin Ave.

The event will bring together a variety of resources for teens, especially those needing a nudge in the right direction.

Among the organizations that will be represented are the Sandhills Center, which handles mental health issues; the Tarheel Challenge Academy, based in Salemburg, which offers a 22-week residential program in which participants learn how to become productive citizens; the Lee County Parks and Recreation Department; and Central Carolina Community College, which offers a Job Corps scholarship program in which young people with diplomas to receive training as well as a financial stipend, Glover said.

“We fund programs that provide services to the youth such as Teen Court … and mentoring,” she said.

The aim is to educate residents and have people work together to create a stronger community, Glover said.

The event’s motto, Stronger Together, reflects the desire to help build the community through partnerships.

“This is a small community and has a down-home feel and everyone knows everybody,” Glover said. “We want everybody to walk arm-in-arm and walk with each other.”

Bubba’s Subs and Sandwiches will provide food and Pelican’s Snoballs will be on hand to provide treats to cool off with.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will provide water, she said. There will be games, prizes and even a raffle. And it’s all free, Glover said.

“We will have masks available for adults and youth if they want one,” she said. “We just need people to show up.”

If it rains, the event will be rescheduled, Glover said.

Board won't change mining, quarrying approval process

The Lee County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Monday not to change the current process for approval of mining and quarrying activities.

Commissioners Robert Reives, Cameron Sharpe, Mark Lovick and Bill Carver voted to keep the process as it is. Voting against were Kirk Smith, Andre Knecht and Arianna Lavallee.

By opting to keep the process as it is, requests for rezoning and special use permits pertaining to mining and quarrying activities will require approval by the commissioners, according to Marshall Downey, director of community development.

Earlier this year, the commissioners asked the planning staff to simplify the review and approval process for mining and quarrying, Downey said.

That resulted in the recommendation to allow the activities, subject to approval of a special-use permit by the Board of Adjustments, in areas zoned for Residential Agricultural, Light Industrial and Heavy Industrial.

The proposal called for removing the Special Overlay District for mining, which stipulated certain steps that were to be followed.

By removing the overlay district, Downey said, it would eliminate the need for legislative action — approval by the commissioners as the county’s governing body.

Approval would require only a special use permit from the Board of Adjustment. Appeals would go to Superior Court instead of the Board of Commissioners.

However, certain requirements included in the current ordinance would remain in effect such as minimum lot sizes, buffers and distances from facilities such as schools and churching as well as a private residence, according to the Planning Board proposal.

The commissioners had the choice of following the Planning Board recommendation or leaving the application process as it is.

That means any rezoning or special-use permit request would still require approval by the commissioners.

“The reality is if someone wanted to do this, they would have to come before you all for approval,” Downey said.

Reives questioned why residents would want to give up their right to appeal a rejection by the Planning Board to the commissioners.