Church, community support charity

Published 6:45 pm Thursday, April 19, 2012

Martha’s Thrift Shop & Food Pantry in Belhaven is the epitome of community helping community and of what a community and faith-based volunteer organization can achieve.

An ecumenical network of area churches and local volunteers, Martha’s relies completely on volunteers to run its thrift shop and to supply food to more than 250 families every month.

“The volunteers are the backbone” of the organization, said Robert Sawtelle, volunteer food manager.

Volunteers Bob Searle, Virginia Ebron, Eurah Whitfield and Margaret Nixon sort through donations at Martha’s Thrift Shop. (Submitted Photo)

They are what make Martha’s a smooth-running operation, he said.

Started about 10 years ago as a loose service ministry, Martha’s was aided by the Bath United Methodist Church for several years. As it grew and grew, more help was needed, so the network of churches was developed. Martha’s gained nonprofit status in December 2011.

“It’s God’s ministry,” said Nita Pierce, part-time general manager. “It is not one church or one group. It’s important to keep it that way so everyone can feel comfortable coming to participate. It can be as much a part of your church as it is mine.”

The thrift shop takes in, sorts through and offers for sale truckloads of goods weekly.

“I am amazed at the donations that come from our community,” said Pierce, referring to both the quantity and the quality of what the shop receives. Open six days a week, the thrift shop is managed completely by community volunteers.

Once a month (usually the fourth Friday), the food pantry gives out about 250 boxes of food to feed 414 folks throughout eastern Beaufort County and western Hyde County, Pierce said. The food distribution is a busy three-day process that is supported by the churches. The churches are divided into six teams, each managing the distribution two months of the year.

Proceeds from the thrift shop are used to operate the nonprofit entity and integral to the success of the food pantry by supplying funds to supplement donated food.

The pantry receives 60 percent of its food from the Food Bank of the Albemarle, some of it at no cost and some purchased, and 25 percent of the food is donated by the Belhaven Food Lion. The remainder is purchased using proceeds from the thrift store and monetary donations.

“We have a lot of support from the community, and that’s very important,” Sawtelle said.

Martha’s holds bag sales every month, during which customers may get an all-you-can-fill paper bag for $5 each, and it holds customer-appreciation days during which coupons and free bags are given away.

“Everyone deserves to be appreciated,” Pierce said, “We’re developing relationships.”

Many of the volunteers enjoy what they are doing because they are helping their neighbors.

“It does my heart good to help locally; to know I am helping someone where I live,” said Deb Chrystal, a Martha’s board member and volunteer from First Baptist Church of Smithton.

Other churches supporting Martha’s are Belhaven’s West Belhaven Church of Christ, Trinity United Methodist, St. James Episcopal, Belhaven Missionary Baptist and Bethany United Methodist, and Bath’s United Methodist and St. Thomas Episcopal.

Pierce said there is always room for more churches or civic groups to participate.

Martha’s Thrift Shop & Food Pantry is located at 857 W. Main St., Belhaven. It is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.