Updated: Aug 28, 2019
“You’re late,” chides Alice Robinson, straight-faced, looking at the man who just came through the door. “Am I?” he asks, kicking mud off his boots and looking around for a clock.
“No, I just wanted to say that,” Alice giggles, her laughter chiming across the room. “I’m just teasing you! You are right on time!” She walks across the room to greet him. “Right on time.”
Other volunteers chuckle and shake their heads as they pack oranges into bags.
Yanceyville, North Carolina
To get to Yanceyville, you drive a long way along Highway 158. It’s still early in the year, but the tobacco fields have been plowed up and are ready for planting. Right now, a week’s worth of rain has settled into the tilled rows, creating long glistening lines under the sun.
Yanceyville is the county seat of Caswell County, and this Tuesday morning it is slow and sleepy. Cars are parked in the large county high school parking lot, but the students are in class. A coffee shop on Main Street has a few customers drifting in and out, and two men stand in the parking lot of the post office chatting.
County Outreach volunteers preparing food from Second Harvest for distribution.
But inside a small bright yellow building on the corner of Church and Third, the volunteers of County Outreach Ministry are bustling about, preparing for their monthly grocery distribution. One woman is weighing out food on a large scale, others are packing pinto beans, canned corn, and fresh vegetables into bags and boxes of different sizes. County Outreach is one of four Second Harvest partner organizations serving Caswell County.
“We officially open only once a month,” says Alice. “But you know we are going to do what’s needed. If someone calls me up at the house, I am going to come down here.”
There is no doubt that Alice Robinson, her husband Paul, and the volunteers at County Outreach are going to do what’s needed. In fact, it is that very simple premise—see a need, fill it—on which this effort was built.
County Outreach Ministry
In 2011, Alice and Paul were at a banquet and heard the statistic that nearly one out of three children in Caswell County did not consistently have enough food to eat. They could not get the number of out their heads and Alice could not sleep that night. They decided that something needed to be done.
Within two weeks, they had started a Saturday sit-down meal for community members in a sunny Yanceyville building where Alice had once run a daycare. A year later, they were partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank and the Caswell Parish to operate a summer meal site to fill the gap created when children are out of school and lack access to healthy school meals.
That first day, over 100 children arrived for the program.
Alice delivers milk from Second Harvest in Yanceyville.
Since then, County Outreach has been seeing needs and filling in gaps—sometimes in unconventional ways. Alice has been known to not only respond to calls at her home, but to ride a tricycle through hard-hit neighborhoods distributing food to families she knows could use the help.
Alice has always had a heart for children—she was a teacher for 45 years for Caswell County Schools and later ran Alice’s Educational Emporium—but soon she found that along with hungry children came hungry adults. Over 18% of Caswell’s total population struggles to put adequate and consistent food on their tables. With the help of volunteers coming from churches across the area, County Outreach added additional programs, such as the monthly food distribution going on today.
All Sizes and Ages
A long line of people has gathered outside County Outreach and cars are parked up and down Third Avenue. “Let’s invite people in,” Alice says.
Today, the people coming to the grocery distribution are overwhelmingly seniors. One woman who is 72 cedes her seat to another woman who is 89, calling her “ma’am” as she helps her sit. Most people report living on a fixed income—maybe some retirement money, or maybe just a Social Security check. Yanceyville specifically, and Caswell County more generally, is home to an aging population. Yanceyville has a median age of nearly 43, and a median household income around $17,300 a year.
Alice and a volunteer discuss plans for the days distribution.
“There used to be a lot of industry here,” says volunteer Annette Oliver. “But it’s all gone. There were mills all over, but they left in the 1990s. Because there are no jobs, young people don’t stay here. They go off and away.”
“Now we see seniors, people who have lived here all their life and been the pillars of this community, in need of help.”
One by one, nearly 100 people come through the pantry in just under two hours. They are warmly greeted by the volunteers and are offered large boxes and bags of food. Some walk with canes or walkers and cannot carry the food themselves.
Alice Robinson watches over the entire operation, flittering in and out of rooms like a bird, hovering momentarily over a table of bread, and then nearly hopping to the door to hug an elderly woman coming through it.
“Alice has always had her babies,” says another volunteer. “Her babies just come in all sizes and ages.”
To learn more about Second Harvest’s work in Caswell County, and throughout Northwest North Carolina, follow us on social media.