North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Group works weekly to help the hungry

By RUTH SHEEHAN
The News & Observer of Raleigh

Posted: Dec. 27, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. — The three nondescript cars pulled into a parking lot across from Moore Square. Before the teenagers inside clicked open their seatbelts, dozens of homeless men and women scurried over.

By the time the high school and college students opened their doors, they were completely surrounded, causing the teenagers to beam.

This is what they come for. Every single Sunday for the last three years, this small group of young adult volunteers, along with N.C. State adviser Anita Flick, has served bag lunches to a growing group of homeless people. Rain, shine, no matter.

"You hear so much about young people who are abscesses on our culture," said Kay Fish, whose son helps with the project regularly. "There are so many who quietly do so much for others. And this group is just so devoted. They never miss a week."

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that now as a registered charity called Imagine No Hunger, this lunch-bag blitz for the homeless began when most of the kids were students at Athens High. Liz Willette, a former Athens student, got it off the ground. But after Willette graduated and headed to Appalachian State University, Doug Wegman and Anita Flick's daughter Alyse took over.

In January, they moved the entire operation to N.C. State, where Wegman is a freshman, and Alyse Flick has been taking classes while finishing high school.

Their other faithful helpers include Matt Hunt, Andrew Owens, Daniel Fish and 14-year-old Austin Flick.

Most of the students come under Anita Flick's wing because they are "pre-health" majors at N.C. State - hoping to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry.

But in many ways, what they have learned in their weekly sojourns to Moore Square puts organic chemistry to shame.

"There's one old guy with real thick glasses who's a crazy Cowboys fan like me and mom," said Alyse Flick. "He always comes to find us and ask us whether we're watching the game that day. That's the kind of thing that keeps us coming back."

With food donated by other students in Flick's health advising group, they create a whirlwind assembly line every Sunday, shortly after noon. In less than an hour, they assemble 150 baloney and cheese sandwiches, rounding out the bag lunches with a couple of pieces of fresh fruit, granola bars, chips, and a drink.

"We know how to crank it!" shouts Anita Flick, slapping baloney on a grid of bread slices.

Flick and her daughter also visit local Panera Bread stores on Sunday nights to pick up leftover sweet rolls, cookies and other breads and treats for the following Sunday's bag lunches.

A couple of local churches also assist, especially during the summer and over holidays when donations are slow and volunteers are traveling.

To date, Imagine No Hunger hasn't missed a week.

"Obviously, they know us," Wegman said drily as wave after wave of homeless people shuffled across the street on a recent Sunday. On that day, the teens were also handing out donated coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

Some business owners have mixed feelings about the ministries for the homeless in Moore Square, where the Salvation Army also provides hot meals.

"The business owners I've talked to are very supportive," said David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. "At the same time, there are potential problems. We want to be advocates for long-term solutions."

For now, the Alliance has members of its cleaning crew swing through Moore Square on Monday mornings to collect debris.

The Imagine No Hunger team spends far less time getting its fare to the homeless.

On a recent Sunday, more than 100 bag lunches disappeared in three minutes flat.
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