In the fall of 2017, the Edenton-Chowan Food Pantry grew its NCCF endowment in less than four months from the starting balance of $10,000 to more than $250,000.
Dubbed the “100 Grand Challenge” by the Food Pantry’s board of directors and dynamic executive director, Roger Coleman, the fundraising campaign brought the community together, grew awareness of the organization across the county and built a permanent fund to ensure financial security for the small community-driven nonprofit.
The idea for the endowment all started when Coleman attended an event the Edenton-Chowan Chamber of Commerce hosted in partnership with the Chowan Community Funds Foundation, the NCCF local affiliate. The event, a nonprofit roundtable, featured guest speaker Natalie Jenkins Peel, the NCCF regional director serving the northeast.
Peel spoke to the local nonprofit leaders on the power of endowment and how their organizations can benefit from permanent philanthropic assets that ensure financial security, build capacity and often drive fundraising growth. Her presentation sparked an idea in Coleman and Gerard Cooney, the Food Pantry’s new board chair who also attended the gathering.
Coleman and Cooney developed a vision for how their community’s Food Pantry could be transformed through an endowment fund.
The two leaders knew immediately this would need to be a priority for the Food Pantry’s board in 2017 and set to work. With the help of Edenton’s Mayor, Roland Vaughan, they connected with Dr. John Philips, a man who grew up in Edenton and wanted to repay the community for what he gained from his time in Chowan County.
When the community asked, Dr. Philips answered. He challenged the Food Pantry to raise $100,000 for the endowment fund by the end of the year, promising he would match the fundraising with $100,000 from his own family foundation.
"We were hoping he’d donate $10,000 and we’d be able to raise another $10,000," said Coleman. "When we heard that they would give us $100,000 if we could raise $100,000 by the end of 2017, we were floored and knew we had a lot of work to do."
By August, the Food Pantry put a fundraising committee together to spearhead the effort, led by Board Member Amanda Howell.
“Amanda always believed we could do it,” said Coleman. “The rest of us had some real doubts, but she never gave up the faith and was an instrumental force behind our success.”
Once Howell and the fundraising committee issued the “100 Grand Challenge,” word spread quickly. “It was exciting to watch the community get behind us,” she said. “We made it a challenge not just to the Food Pantry, but to the entire Town of Edenton and Chowan County.”
The Food Pantry team did everything they could think of to drive awareness and giving. The team reached out to past Food Pantry financial supporters, local businesses, community and service groups, the faith community, leveraged Giving Tuesday, handed out as many 100 Grand candy bars as they could get their hands on and even worked with the Chowan Herald to publish weekly progress reports on the challenge campaign to keep the community engaged.
Thanks to the challenge campaign, the community has a new level of awareness of the Food Pantry. “The campaign gave us the opportunity to talk to people in the community about what exactly goes on at the Pantry,” Howell said. “It was wonderful to see people start to understand what the goal and the mission of the Pantry is and who we serve.”
After four months of efforts across the community, the Food Pantry successfully raised $147,000 and earned the full $100,000 match from Philips’ family foundation, the 4 Others Foundation.
Coleman credits the success to many, but maintains that the credit is due to the entire community, not just the Food Pantry. “Our annual budget is just over $100,000 and we raised over $140,000 for the endowment,” he said. “That says more about Edenton and Chowan County’s generosity than anything else.”
The support of the Philips family was instrumental, according to the entire Food Pantry team. “Dr. John Philips and his daughter who heads the family foundation, Jill Swisher, were more than supportive every step of the way,” Coleman said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”
The Food Pantry hosted a community celebration to mark the campaign’s success. Philips came to town for the occasion, with one small request. Swisher wanted him to take her son, his grandson, to the old-time soda shop and drug store he loved so much to share a grilled cheese sandwich and milkshake.
The iconic soda shop opened especially for them on a Sunday so Philips and his grandson could experience a piece of family history. “It was so special to see Dr. Philips and his grandson sitting there at the counter sharing a sandwich,” Coleman said. “It was a moment to remember what this is all about, our community.”
The day was a very special one for the Philips family. "Attending the celebration of the creation of the Food Pantry, its 35th birthday and the success of the campaign was such an honor for my family and me,” Philips said. “We were very proud to have had the privilege to not only attend, but to help start the process for the endowment fund, which will allow the great works of this already established, wonderful and necessary program to continue."
Philips hopes his gift will have an impact that continues for years to come. “I hope my matching gift will expand exponentially by increasing the exposure and spreading the data about the increasing and alarming needs for food to more North Carolinians. Edenton people really care about each other, which can seem rare in the world today, and I hope that this will resonate with many others, near and far.”
For Peel, the partnership with the Food Pantry is one she’s very proud of. “I’m so grateful to know that two years ago the idea was sparked at a community roundtable,” she said. “It’s so wonderful to see our partnership continue to grow as the Food Pantry’s endowment grows.”
Howell and the entire Food Pantry team see the Pantry and its endowment fund as essential to their community. “The Pantry is a blessing to our community,” she said. “The endowment is just one of the ways we’ve brought people together.”
By Louis Duke