Written by Sarah Fligel
For Rusty Price, founder of Camino Community Center, it’s the faces of those his organization serves that fuels his passion to help during these difficult times.
He describes delivering food recently to a single mom of four who was laid off during COVID-19. “You would’ve thought they had just won the lottery,” he says. “Mom is crying; the kids are jumping up and down. It’s that swing from desperation to hope … that’s enough to keep us going.”
And the Camino Community Center is certainly going. Normally, Price says, about 600 people a month rely on the center’s food pantry. In the month of April, that number ballooned to 11,200. In just one week, the pantry exceeded its annual capacity of serving individuals, providing food to over 6,600 people. At one point, more than 2,000 people were on the waiting list, according to Price.
It’s that overwhelming demand that has caused Camino to expand its pantry services from two to four days a week, Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 3 PM. Founded in 2003, the nonprofit serves low-income families in the greater Charlotte area through not only its food pantry but a health and mental health clinic, a thrift store, a homeless outreach program, and other health and human services. The community center is bilingual and multicultural, bridging gaps between language and cultural barriers for families in need.
About 150 people have canceled or not shown up for their clinic appointments in recent weeks, Price says. Many are fearful, he says, and others are concerned about affording the small fee required for clinic visits (the clinic helps with financial aid). Anyone that calls for an appointment is screened for COVID-19 symptoms and if needed, directed to Atrium facilities for testing and treatment. Novant Health plans to visit the center and offer additional patient education and masks. Camino has begun some telehealth programs to virtually serve clients when possible. Its thrift store has had to shut down during the crisis, but those employees have been helping with the increasing pantry demand.
Many individuals coming to Camino have lost their jobs. The center has seen a large increase of undocumented individuals seeking help – a group that will not receive any support from the government. Yisell, a single mother of two, has been left unemployed for over three weeks in the wake of the pandemic. In a recent interview with Camino, she said, “We are living day to day and the situation is very, very difficult.”
With the pandemic continuing, Camino has launched a fundraising campaign to help purchase needed groceries and provide its services. To support, text “CAMINO” to 71777, which directs donors to the center’s donation page. Reaching Camino’s $100,000 goal will provide food to 1,500 people a week for the next two months.
But even hitting the target may just scratch the surface of what Camino is facing long term. “We have a base now of about 6,000 to 7,000 people who are looking to us for food every two weeks,” Price says. “There’s intense fear. There’s intense insecurity about what’s going to happen next.”
What’s happened so far in the community, however, gives Price hope for the future. Loaves & Fishes and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina have helped with food donations. Walmart has provided a truck full of diapers and wipes and helped financially and with volunteers. BlueCross BlueShield has assisted financially as well, along with American Airlines, providing snack bags and volunteers weekly. Rodriguez Produce donated produce; a woman in the community dropped off 100 masks. World Central Kitchen plans to offer a hot, family meal for four to those picking up food from the pantry.
“It’s been miraculous,” Price says. “I’m so proud of the team here. I’m proud of Charlotte. … We can make a big difference; we can give hope and together we can make it through this crisis.”
DID YOU KNOW: Camino Community Center is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!