Isle of Wight Christian Outreach Program: Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Need

Tucked away on a winding road in a small rural county stands a beacon of hope.

Inside a humble brick building, volunteers pack groceries in an assembly line, fold linen in a store room, and sort through piles of baby diapers in another. They then distribute the goods for fellow neighbors in need who line up at the center.

For their efforts to support the community with essentials throughout the pandemic, the Isle of Wight Christian Outreach Program received a $25,000 COVID Rapid Response grant, which was paid by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Throughout the pandemic, more than $1.25 million was given in COVID-related grants to local nonprofits as a part of a joint response by the community foundation and United Way of South Hampton Roads.

“The support from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation has played a major role in allowing the Isle of Wight County Christian Outreach Program to continue and even expand our assistance to the needy in our community at a time when both our major fundraisers had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus,” said board chair Wayne Willis.

Since 1991, the center has been helping Isle of Wight residents, including the residents of Smithfield, Windsor, and Carrollton. Over the years, their operations have expanded, and they are now serving approximately 400 to 500 households per month, which equates to 1,400 to 1,500 individuals, leaders said.

“We also have an emergency services program where we help with prescriptions, overdue rent, and car repair. If someone can’t get to work, then that’s a problem. We screen them and we do what we can to determine the need. We work closely with social services on that as well,” said Cris Lawrence, the center’s sole staffer.

Board chair Wayne Willis and administrative assistant Cris Lawrence

Now, the outreach center is able to help complete essential home repair jobs, assist clients with dental work, and provide some rent and utility bill assistance.

The center was able to purchase a new van for picking up food from local grocery stores, delivering food to clients, and moving furniture. The center had to install a new walk-in refrigerator in order to be able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to clients every month.

Pandemic-related hardships led to a greater need in the Western Tidewater community, program leaders said.

Residents have also stepped up to fill in gaps.

“If we have empty shelves, we’ll put a little note in the newspaper to say we need blankets or cereals and the next day the donation table is full,” Lawrence said. “The community is amazing.”

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