Story by Rachel Mills
Martha Rigling was about to turn 80, when a friend, Ginny D’ercole, brought her along five years ago to volunteer at PORCH. The PORCH folks thought that was marvelous, and threw her a birthday party.
Martha and her husband Richard, a school superintendent, had retired to Chapel Hill because, like many, they were looking for a warmer climate, and Florida, where they first thought to go, “just didn’t seem right,” Martha remembers. When her daughter, already living and working hereabouts, suggested they come to Chapel Hill, they found it perfect. “We love it here,” she says.
It wasn’t long before she began to look around for opportunities to meet people. A book group, a monthly neighborhood gathering for “empty nesters”, and other activities keep her in good company, but PORCH is, she insists, the best of all.
“I can’t wait for that second Monday and Wednesday each month. The work PORCH does is amazing,” she says, “and so well run. It’s like everyone just comes in and knows where to be and what to do, and they do it.”
“Plus,” she adds, “I meet so many nice people each time…this month, I met a new volunteer and now…” she grins, “I’ve met you, too!”
Martha began her first year with PORCH helping Ginny distribute foods to the schools. That first task gave her great insight into the work she was doing. At Frank Porter Graham, she talked to a woman waiting in line who told her that she wouldn’t know what to do without the donations every month. She remembers her saying, “It’s the only way I can feed my family, to send them to school with something for breakfast.” Martha was so affected by her story that tears came to her eyes. It’s moments like that that bring home the essential need to share food with others in the community, people who are not often visible in a place like this.
“We have a lot of very poor people in Chapel Hill,” Martha wants to emphasize. “My son was amazed. He said, ‘But I thought Chapel Hill was a wealthy community.’”
It’s the impression that many people, even people who live here, have of the area, but it’s not a complete picture. People who volunteer for PORCH and the food pantries and schools it supports know better, because they see the need…and the people…first hand.
Martha also sees the generous sides of the community. “Weaver Street Market,” she says with a little awe in her voice, “shows up to every Wednesday sort with a huge truckload of fresh food and unloads it for us.” And, of course, she has nothing but awe for Susan and Debbie…”Debbie is a bundle of energy!” She doesn’t know how they do all they do, much behind the scenes and all month long.
“PORCH is giving food to more and more people,” she notes seriously. “I really think we’re going to need more help as we grow.”
Martha is obviously a person who loves people, but at heart her family is central. She talks with pride about each of her children, who have accomplished so much. Her husband is a wonderful man…they have been married 63 years, she fondly tells us. Her grandchildren, all grown and making their way in the world, are traveling farther than she would perhaps like, but leading good lives. They include a great-grandchild, too.
Her family feels the same way about her. “It’s great that you are doing that for PORCH, Mom,” they tell her. “We’re really proud of you.”