The Daily Southerner
A cycle of love and generosity. That’s the way that Sister Mary Ann Czaja, director of the Tarboro Community Outreach Center, describes the center’s ministry.
“I think it’s a remarkable cycle. Those who have share with those who don’t,” she said. At no time was that generosity more evident than Thursday at noon. Johnny Speight, the center’s cook, was serving the lunchtime crowd in the soup kitchen, while Daniel Martin, one of the 17 residents in the center’s shelter, boxed up to-go meals for distribution. Jonas Raynor, a regular, made his way through the serving line.
“So many people out there are hungry and ain’t got nowhere to go,” Raynor said. “I’ve been coming five or six years. It helps out. They had a nice Thanksgiving dinner down here. It helped me out on my grocery bill.”
“People did show up on Christmas Day to get dinner,” Cjaza said. “There’re more people unemployed, getting less income, the dynamic of more people not having jobs.”
Next door in the Torrey House (food distribution center), James Jenkins was offering gas money to someone in need who walked through the door. Jenkins said he sees a 6 to 7 percent increase in the number of people in need of food assistance during the holiday season. This week, the center fed 226 people.
“There’s so many people out of work at this time of year. They also have families to feed,” Jenkins said. “One day a lady came in and said, ‘Mr. James, can I have some food? The only thing I have in my refrigerator is a bottle of water and a light bulb. How can you turn away someone like that?”
Outside the doors of the outreach center, Iyahbinghi Imanuel was bringing in a bag of clothes to donate.
“I used to live in the Blessing House. Sister Mary was very influential in helping me stabilize myself and I’m very appreciative,” Imanuel said. The Blessing House offers emergency housing for women and children. The Blessing Place has given stability to a current resident, Tanya Coogan, as well.
“It’s the longest place I’ve ever stayed at. I’ve stayed for six months,” Coogan said. “She [Czaja] has given me a structure.”
Coogan’s mother was mentally ill and her father was in jail, so she never had structure in her life as a child. Now that she has four children of her own, she hopes that the structure Cjaza has provided for her will help her have her children back in her life, and provide a stable environment for them. Consistently taking medications for her mood disorders thanks to help from Cjaza has helped Coogan battle her addictions, to alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships.
Coogan also said Cjaza “tries to keep me busy” by teaching her how to crochet, giving her spiritual books to read and bringing her along to minister to others in need. Cjaza’s philosophy is that the people she houses will improve their lives by giving back to the “bigger community” rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives.
“They have to have a sense of wanting to give back to the program,” Cjaza said. “”You have to share in order to have housing and laundry and food. We’re hoping to make their lives better, not just a drop-off situation.”
The outreach center, also known as the Barnhill Holderness Center, serves lunch every day except Sunday and distributes bags of food to those in need from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The center is always looking for volunteers and donations of clothing and furniture.