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Among those working to make a December food distribution and health awareness event at Warren County Middle School successful are, from the left, the Rev. Ebony Talley-Brame, local minister who also serves as chairwoman of the Warren County Board of Education; the Rev. Dr. Tony Cozart, moderator of the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association, local pastor and retired educator; Dr. Goldie S. Byrd, director of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at the Wake Forest School of Medicine; Johnny Williams, Warren County sheriff; and Dr. Lamonte Williams, liaison for faith engagement and grassroots efforts with the Maya Angelou Center and local pastor.

 

A partnership between the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association, New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the Macon area, and community volunteers enabled 1,250 boxes of food to be distributed here late last month.

The partners conducted a food distribution and health information event at Warren County Middle School shortly before Christmas. Maya Angelou Center officials indicated this week that there are hopes for additional health programs in the local area in the coming months. 

The December event was made possible through the joint efforts of partners who included Dr. Goldie S. Byrd, director of the Maya Angelou Center; Dr. Lamonte Williams, the Center’s liaison for faith engagement and grassroots efforts and pastor of New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Warren County; and the Rev. Dr. Tony Cozart, moderator of the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association and pastor of Cooks Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Warren County. Williams said that more than 600 cars  — and a diverse group of people from all walks of life — passed through the Warren County Middle School parking lot where the distribution was held, to receive food, COVID-19 protection items, and information about Alzheimer’s and memory loss prevention.

The Warren County event is the fifth that the Center has held to date as part of a grassroots model for community engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams said. Other distributions have been held in areas such as Greensboro and High Point, and have also involved partnerships with area churches for planning and volunteer participation.

Byrd said that plans for such events developed as a way to respond to food insecurities among communities, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. For the Maya Angelou Center, it was important to connect addressing this need with providing health information. Byrd described a connection between food/nutrition and living conditions that can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“We wanted to connect food with the health insecurities that are ravaging communities, especially among African-Americans,” she said.

For Williams, it just made sense to hold a food distribution and health information event in Warren County. His service in the community through New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association has allowed him to see the needs facing local residents through the viewpoint of ministry. Williams added that economic challenges facing the area, especially during the ongoing pandemic, put Warren County among the top choices for distribution sites.

For Byrd and Williams, the opportunity to provide more information about Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and resources available to help local residents, was just as important as meeting immediate needs for food. Describing Alzheimer’s as especially devastating among the African-American community, Byrd said that representatives of the Center also encouraged local residents to participate in the Center’s upcoming Alzheimer’s study.

Williams said that it was particularly important for African-Americans to register in order to allow for a diverse cross section of the population to be reflected in scientific research, especially in the development of new medicines. He added that more than 50 people at the Warren County event expressed interest in registering for the study, he added.

Volunteers were pleased that people from all areas of Warren County and all walks of life were able to receive food and health information. Each food box weighed approximately 32 pounds and contained meat, produce and dairy products.

In addition to the food boxes 150 boxed lunches were also given out during the event.

Dr. Tony Cozart, who serves as moderator of the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association and as pastor of Cooks Chapel Missionary Baptist Church said that word about the distribution and the need for volunteers went out through emails, social media and word of mouth. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office directed traffic into and out of the WCMS parking lot on the day of the event, and the Warren County Schools Maintenance Department assisted in unloading food boxes.

Williams said that he arrived at Warren County Middle School around 7:30 on the morning of the event. At that time, 10 cars were in line for the distribution, which began at noon. By 11 a.m., 150 cars were in line. Just 30 minutes later, more than 200 cars were waiting.

Cozart said that a number of volunteers from the United Shiloh Association, Warren County Schools and the community in general helped at the site.

He said that the distribution was the type of event that local churches have wanted to hold to help the community, but lacked the resources to conduct on such a large scale.

“It allowed us as an Association to be co-sponsors of, and participate in, an event that churches want to do, but don’t have the resources (to do),” Cozart said. “The role of the church is to help the community.”

He noted that planning for the distribution came together in a little over two weeks, but its impact was dramatic. Cozart saw people providing rides to those without transportation and others picking up food boxes for friends and neighbors. 

Williams saw several people who brought identification cards and wondered if they qualified for the distribution. He said that they became emotional when they were told that the event was for everybody. Williams also heard of people picking up food for their neighbors and from event participants who expressed thanks for bringing the distribution to Warren County.

Organizers hope that a similar event can be held here in the near future. Byrd added that representatives from the Maya Angelou Center would to return to Warren County to continue efforts to increase awareness about Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

“When communities are healthier, they thrive,” she said.

Cozart described last month’s distribution as meaningful for both those receiving food and the people who worked together to make the event a success.

“It became a really glorious experience,” he said. “I left feeling really good.”