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Neighborhood Coordinators Mary Kent Hill and Amy Stern Partner to Collect Food in Spring Valley

10/22/2023
Volunteers
Mary Kent and Amy have teamed up to share the Neighborhood Coordinator role.

Since PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro launched 13 years ago, many new neighborhoods have come on board to collect non-perishable food once a month. And some have returned after taking a hiatus. 

Such is the case with Spring Valley, a neighborhood of about 100 houses in Carrboro. Longtime resident Mary Kent Hill became a Neighborhood Coordinator during PORCH’s earliest days because she knew the co-founders. Food would be brought to co-founder Susan Romaine’s garage back then, where it would be sorted by volunteers. 

Mary Kent’s work as a PORCH volunteer continued for years. She’d reach out to regular donors each month, reminding them that a donation week was approaching. Gradually, the group got smaller. With time, some of the regulars relocated. And then, during the pandemic, Spring Valley’s donations came to a stop. 

But this summer brought a new injection of energy. Mary Kent now has a partner in neighbor Amy Stern. Amy had known about PORCH for years and sometimes donated non-perishables or contributed financially when she lived in Wexford. 

Months ago, Amy saw PORCH volunteers tabling at a Chamber of Commerce event, which led her to ask if Spring Valley had a Neighborhood Coordinator. PORCH connected her to Mary Kent, who, it turns out, really liked the idea of breathing new life into Spring Valley’s relationship with PORCH, especially if Amy would be willing to share the responsibility with her. 

The women alternate months, dividing the work and the energy. They also now collect at a central site – the neighborhood’s mail house – which means they no longer have to navigate long, steep driveways (unless a neighbor specifically requests a pick up on their porch). Another way their model has changed? They email the entire neighborhood through a list serve to remind people about PORCH week, instead of focusing on a specific group of frequent donors. This has introduced PORCH to many, since plenty of new neighbors have moved into Spring Valley in recent years. Mary Kent and Amy also walked the neighborhood this summer, attaching door hangers to everyone’s door, to announce the return of PORCH. 

During their first PORCH month, in August, they were aided by a neighbor who was moving out and was looking to donate a lot of food – creating a bit of a windfall of non-perishables. In September, Amy says, “I took a pic of my trunk. It was filled with food.” One neighbor told Mary Kent that he appreciates her emails about PORCH because it signals that it’s time to make another financial donation to the organization.  

Amy is a photographer who has a studio in Carrboro and specializes in portraits, headshots, and family photos. She has lived in Carrboro since 2006. Mary Kent came to UNC for her undergraduate degree and never left. She has resided in Spring Valley for more than 25 years. A retired speech pathologist, she worked in the school system and now volunteers for the Refugee Support Center and Family Reading Partners. 

“Through my volunteer work, I know of families who benefit from PORCH. It’s great seeing that side of it,” says Mary Kent. 

The women each have grown children who graduated from Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools. 

“Just the idea of helping others – and neighbors helping neighbors – is really appealing to me,” Amy says. “I just wanted to help in some local way. PORCH is really important in our community.” 

“Unfortunately, there is such a need in our community,” adds Mary Kent. “… It started off as such a small idea and effort, and it’s just blossomed in our community as well as to others. And it’s such a simple thing for someone in a neighborhood to do – take a couple of items to the mail house or put them on your porch.” 

What’s their advice to other Neighborhood Coordinators? 

“Get a partner,” says Mary Kent. 

Adds Amy: “Then it divides the work in half, and it’s also someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone to help you when you’re on vacation or you need a break.” 

We are currently seeking Neighborhood Coordinators in communities all around Chapel Hill and Carrboro.If your neighborhood doesn’t have a Neighborhood Coordinator, would you or someone you know want to help fill this role? This is a great leadership opportunity for students! Prospective NCs can reach out to us at chc@porchcommunities.org. You can pass along the link to our Neighborhood Coordinator information page, which gets into the nuts and bolts of what NCs do; it includes this very handy video