Clover Area Assistance Center remodeling to provide better service

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comDecember 5, 2012 

— Come holiday season, it’s usually the food flying off the shelves at Clover Area Assistance Center. This year, even the shelves themselves are on the way out.

“This is just phase one,” said Karen van Vierssen, CAAC executive director.

The center is going through an organizational change aimed at improving service. On Thursday, board members and volunteers hauled out eight wooden shelves and many metal ones. Lake Wylie Rotary Club members arrived Friday and Monday morning to help, too. Much of what was moved out and given away had been in place since the current location opened in 1999 at 1130 Highway 55 E.

By late January or early February, leaders hope to have the center well on its way to becoming a full-choice pantry. Clients will be able to choose the items they want, rather than having a bag filled for them by volunteers.

The change is philosophical and practical. Allowing clients to choose items reduces waste, since someone wouldn’t choose something he or she wouldn’t eat. It also offers an experience similar to grocery shopping as anyone else might do.

“The plan is to add dignity back into the process,” van Vierssen said.

Grant money and donations will be needed for the full transition. A sorting area will be constructed where the shelves were. Eventually a refrigerator and freezer with glass doors will be installed. Used grocery store, gondola-style shelving will be installed, as will two more aisles. The lobby will be reconstructed to add private rooms.

Board member Bob Carroll pushed for much of the activity that went on last week. Even with all the activity, he said, the center kept its focus on helping the community.

“These are all going to Sweet Repeat,” he said amid moving wooden shelves. “We’re helping one another.”

Sweet Repeat Charitable Foundation received shelves for its Lake Wylie thrift shop, and Palmetto Pregnancy Center received unused items. Prior to CAAC’s remodeling work, some food was shared with God’s Kitchen in Clover.

CAAC serves about 350 households per month with its food program, giving out 120,000 pounds of food per year. More than half – quite a high percentage compared to similar charities, van Vierssen said – is donated, not purchased.

A volunteer will assist clients, who still receive a set amount of grains, canned vegetables or other items based on family size. However, soon clients may choose which grains or vegetables they want from what’s available.

“There are definitely still limits,” van Vierssen said.

Greg Chacharon and Al Brzoska were two of about 10 board members and volunteers flexing their muscles on Thursday as shelves were broken down, hauled out and lifted on trucks. Brzoska helps the center with maintenance while his wife, Jane, works computers on the other end. Having a strong volunteer core is what allows the center to evolve and go through transitions like this one.

As long as the volunteer base remains strong, Brzoska said, so will the center.

“This only makes life easier for everybody,” he said.

Want to help?

Clover Area Assistance Center has made several other changes. There will be no Santa’s Closet toy distribution this year, as clients are steered to other similar efforts in the area. Instead, there will be a Christmas serving of a ham or turkey with sides, so donations of those items are needed. At Thanksgiving, CAAC provided a holiday meal to a record 211 families. Christmas meal donations will be accepted through Dec. 13. For more information, call 803-222-4837 or visit www.cloverareaassistance.org.

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