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Electrical system fails at Eagle’s Wings

Eagle’s Wings Food Pantry is facing an urgent need this week after the electrical system in the building’s Third Street headquarters failed over the weekend. Eagle’s Wings Executive Director Ann-Marie Montague says the system failure will represent a major setback for the nonprofit, which serves as a critical source of food and nutrition for Beaufort County’s poorest residents.

“We came in Monday, and we had no electric power at all,” Montague said. “Everything was off and had been off, we guestimate, since Saturday.”

In terms of food, some refrigerated dairy products and produce was lost due to the outage, but volunteers were able to save most of the frozen foods thanks to a refrigerated truck that was quickly brought on site by Groen Enterprises. With those food stores stabilized, the nonprofit now faces a complete rework of its electric system.

“This is a major issue,” Montague said. “The problem is that this building is old and has been added onto and updated. We’ve added more equipment, but the electrical service has not been updated properly. We got bad information when we asked if we had enough power the last time we did a major renovation.”

Montague said the failure burnt all of the wires inside the meter box, and left an air conditioning unit on top of the building smoking. Only when the power is restored will they know how many appliances may have been lost due to the malfunction.

“We are fortunate we didn’t have a fire,” Montague said. “But as bad as this is, it’s not stopping us from doing our food ministry, and our building is still here.”

Despite the power outage, Tuesday’s regular food distribution proceeded as scheduled at the pantry, and a mobile food pantry serving communities on the south side of the river will continue Thursday. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit nationwide in March, the nonprofit has not missed a single distribution.

“We’re still giving out food,” Montague said. “We’re doing it outside, we’re doing it in the heat and we’re doing it with a skeletal staff, because it’s hot work packing up bags and bringing them out to cars.”

As of Tuesday, an electrical contractor was surveying the building to determine the cost of repairs. Montague says an initial inspection revealed a need to double the building’s power capacity to run the appliances it has.

“We have no idea of the cost at this time, but this is going to be a major electrical job,” Montague said. “We were running everything we have off of an antiquated 200 amp panel, and we need 400 amps to operate what we have. We were way overextended amperage-wise, which I’m sure contributed to part of this issue. Fortunately, we should have some minimal power by next Tuesday, and we’ll be updating gradually until we get up to that 400 amp service.”

Montague asked for the community’s patience and understanding as the nonprofit works through the issue, and donations are welcome to help with the electrical upgrade. Those interested in contributing can mail a check to Eagle’s Wings at P.O. Box 426, Washington, NC 27889.