In the late 1960s, , Margaret Keller of Cary worriedabout local children’s lack of access to pre-school.
So she teamed up with several local churches to meet the need.
Soon, Keller realized some families also needed clothes and other necessities, so in 1968 Dorcas Ministries was born with a simple goal: for neighbors to help other neighbors through crisis situations.
Some 40 years later, that grassroots effort has grown into a nonprofit that served more than 5,200 people in Cary and Morrisville last year. One-third of those were children.
Recipients of the group’s help are often dealing with a variety of hardships, from job losses and evictions to departing spouses.
In 2011, Dorcas moved from its location on Maynard Road to the Cary Plaza Shopping Center on High House Road. The group rents space to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and several other nonprofits, which provides a source of revenue.
“The new building has certainly opened up new opportunities for us,” said Executive Director Howard Manning. “We have increased our number of customers. Revenue generation is probably up about 45 to 50 percent because we have more room. We’re getting a bigger volume of donations from the public, and the quality of our donations has improved.” Along the way, Manning said, Dorcas Ministries has added more and more volunteers.
And what an army of volunteers I witnessed as I toured the location with several other Cary residents, part of a Dorcas Ministries campaign to create community ambassadors.
More than 200 men and women are on the volunteer roster. Some are trained counselors; others work the registers in the thrift shop or work behind the scenes sorting and pricing wares or repairing and testing electronics.
Others stock the food pantry. Local churches host pantry shelves, and community organizations participate in food drives to keep the pantry full. Right now, there’s a critical need for rice, sugar, cereal and diapers.
Dorcas Ministries clearly doesn’t like to let things go to waste. Clothing and books that don’t sell are recycled. Volunteers break down and sort a variety of metals for recycling as well. Last year alone, Dorcas recycled enough to earn what 12 Volkswagen Beetles would cost.
That money enables Dorcas to provide emergency relief to residents with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.
Now the nonprofit is partnering with other local ministries and businesses to work long term with clients to help address the problems that led to the crisis in the first place – money management, poor decision-making and just plain old hard times.
Dorcas Ministries offers crisis counseling Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. And the nonprofit recently partnered with PNC Bank to teach money-management skills.
“Anybody who wants to can come, to learn how to better manage the money they have – from managing a checkbook to creating a budget and understanding you’re not supposed to be spending more than you’re taking in,” said Deirdre Jersey, resource development director. “It’s very basic things, and our classes are growing.”
Jobs for Life is another program offered by Dorcas, an intensive eight-week course that’s biblically based.
“Jobs for Life teaches people how to be better employees,” Jersey said. “People leave with a better understanding of what an employer is looking for, how they can create more value for their employer and thus become a better employee. Most of our people have a job by the time they leave.”
Dorcas Ministries also offers the Margaret Keller Adult Scholarship Program for job re-training, as well as daycare scholarships for parents who get a job but don’t yet have the means for day care.
“If need be, we take them out on the floor and find them something appropriate to wear to the job interview,” Jersey said. “We’re just trying to give people the resources to get themselves out of the situation they’re in and lift themselves up to a better circumstance.”