Three 'Ordinary" Women Fight Hunger in Triangle

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Photos courtesy of PORCH
Children create artwork for "Planting Hope," a book for kids by kids that describes PORCH, a volunteer, grassroots hunger relief organization.

In 2010, three friends — Christine Cotton, Debbie Horwitz and Susan Romaine — emailed a few neighbors inviting them to leave canned food on their porches.  They collected these cans and delivered them to a nearby hunger relief organization. This was the beginning of PORCH (People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homes).

PORCH is an all-volunteer, nonprofit that has united thousands of neighbors in a shared mission of relieving local hunger. It has grown to more than 150 neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. PORCH’s model is flourishing in Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, other cities and towns in North Carolina, and in cities far beyond. To learn how to bring PORCH to your neighborhood, you can watch the 10-minute video, "Neighbors Helping Neighbors," at porchcommunities.org/video. Or, send an email to info@porchcommunities.org

Children volunteer for PORCH, too

When I met Susan Romaine in the summer of 2015, she stressed the simplicity and efficacy of PORCH and how easily she thought other communities could replicate the organizational structure they’ve established. When I told her I thought PORCH had a wonderful way of giving, she was quick to correct me. “PORCH is not about giving and receiving, it’s about one community healing itself.”

She spoke about the magic none of the three founders had imagined when PORCH started this grassroots effort. “Neighbors, who otherwise might never have met, now share stories and laughter. As they come together, differences fade, judgments wane and hope is planted throughout the community.”

She invited me to the next food pick-up. Families gathered at a school parking lot. I saw for myself how smiles and conversations were shared as easily as produce, milk, eggs and chicken. It felt very much as if we were sitting on an extra-large porch sharing news and sipping sweet iced tea.

And so, that summer, we began to dream of and plan for a children’s picture book that would convey that joy and possibility to children and their parents, a book that would spread PORCH’s ideas to a wider audience.

In January, I began a writing residency with one group of children at Rogers Road Community Center and another in Bev Sheiman’s ESL class at Smith Middle School. Three months and 26 drafts later, we had developed characters and plot and invented language to make the story sparkle. This whimsical tale tells of a hardworking girl named Terra who brings unity to a divided garden using a golden seed.

Susie Wilde works with children at writing residency

Once the words were planted, the same groups began an illustration residency with textile artist Peg Gignoux. The children dyed cloth. Then they printed on it with simple stamps and ink. Then they combined these fabrics into collages.

Small swatches of bright color became grass, dirt, night and dreams.

 The children became illustrators and grew a garden.

 Book designer Steve Godwin merged the text and the images.

Only a year after Susan Romaine and I first spoke, "Planting Hope" was born, a book for kids by kids, created by 30 children through cooperation and community that mirrors the spirit of PORCH. Proceeds from this book will be donated to PORCH to further its work.

Generous funding by PORCH and other community agencies and individual supporters has raised money for the two residencies, materials and book design. Now PORCH is seeking funds for the final phase of the project. Their Kickstarter will fund printing of "Planting Hope," defraying costs of copies for children who created it as well as donating it to area libraries and schools so it can reach a wider audience. PORCH thanks you in advance for helping to plant hope. 

Susie Wilde is passionate about books and writing. Nothing excites her more that sparking writers and readers of all ages, especially when she helps young writers who are creating books for young readers. 

Categories: Giving Back, Guest Bloggers, Solutions