In 2011, when Grace Kirchgessner first learned about PORCH from her sister, Charlotte White, she knew it was a perfect fit. Busy raising two young kids, Max and Olivia, while working full-time at GSK, Grace was looking for a hands-on volunteer activity that the family could do together, on a weekend, without too big of a time commitment. She was especially drawn toward hunger relief. “Even though I’m from Chapel Hill,” explains Grace, “I didn’t realize how much poverty we had here until the kids started school at Ephesus. I was stunned when I first learned that almost half of the kids at Ephesus were receiving free or reduced price meals.”
Grace jumped full blast into her new role as a neighborhood coordinator in Briarcliff/Ridgefield, reaching out to neighbors and letting them know about the monthly food drives. A neighbor, Smaranda Willcox, soon approached Grace about dividing up the neighborhood so that she too could pitch in. Together, they have loyally served as co-coordinators ever since. “Sometimes, we volunteer for things and we wonder what we’ve really accomplished,” says Grace. “With PORCH, I could see our contribution – all of the bags of food packed into our van’s cargo. This was really important to me and it also helped the kids appreciate the value of volunteering for PORCH.”
The food pick-ups took on even greater value when Grace attended the screening of PORCH’s video, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, at the Varsity Theatre in March 2014. “The movie really hit home,” explains Grace. “For the first time, I could see how our family’s small part fit into the big picture of PORCH – the meat from Cliff’s, the milk from Maple View Farms, the food sort at St Thomas More, the food deliveries to the refugee families. There are so many different people pulling together once a month to make this whole thing work, to make this gigantic contribution to the community.”
While a sense of complacency sometimes creeps into the monthly neighborhood food drives, Grace experiments with new ways to reignite the flame for gift-giving. She and Smaranda co-hosted a social gathering this summer as a way of saying thanks to PORCH supporters while also putting names with some new neighbors’ faces. When forwarding PORCH emails to neighborhood participants, Grace sometimes adds shout-outs to donors who go above and beyond (for example, dropping off a check when they’ll be out of town for the designated porch pick-up day). During those months when there is a special appeal from PORCH (such as August, when collections are typically very low), Grace sends PORCH’s newsletter to the neighborhood’s entire listserv – not just her regular group of porch donors – to cast the net a little wider. She also reminds neighbors working for businesses offering matching grants that they can leverage their donation by switching from food to cash (as she and John have done).
Next up is outreach to kids in the neighborhood. “If you can get the kids interested in PORCH,” claims Grace, “the parents will follow.” In the works is a lemonade stand/bake sale, staffed by middle schoolers, that will also serve as a drop-off point for food donations on a designated PORCH Sunday. “We’re always looking for new ways to bring neighbors together and raise awareness about all of the hunger right around us,” says Grace.