The walls inside a “no questions asked” social aid shelter are scattered with messages about bettering yourself and others, expanding your mind, and respect.
At this facility, you’re not asked the typical questions that can get wrapped up in judgmental red tape. If you need clothing, something to eat, or just need to talk, the door is open to literally everyone at Hunger First.
For a group of college kids looking for more solutions to solve the equations in life, you couldn’t find a better social laboratory.
Students of Elon University’s Periclean Scholars program recently went to the shelter, located at the corner of Center and Myrtle streets in Kingsport, to help founder Cindy Risk reorganize her shelves and do other housekeeping chores.
Besides stacking clothes, preparing jars of baby food for distribution, and other mild construction duties, the students from the North Carolina school sat down with Risk to talk about the people who come into her facility.
“These are the ones that are turned away, ones who cannot cut through red tape,” said Risk, who has run Hunger First for 16 years. “This is a place where you can get something you need and not be judged. I just think compassion is the way to get to the root of the problem, and then we can refer them to the proper agency. We get all kinds, from alcoholics to new moms, and they all need something.
“Sometimes it can just be another person to listen. Some have severe psychological problems, and we try to be as understanding as we can. I know how it is to struggle and be the outcast. That is why I have scratched, begged and fought to keep this place alive.”
Periclean member and Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate Ben Kashdan already knew of Hunger First through donations given by his family during his student days. He sought out Risk’s permission to come for a project.
“My church is big into helping Hunger First, bringing them food, things like that,” said Kashdan.
“I did a small documentary while in high school to raise awareness for the shelter, and I posted it on YouTube. I am a public administration major, so I would like to have some sort of administration position in a community. This is a fantastic experience for that purpose.
“We found lasting partnerships throughout Appalachia, and being from this area, I thought we could spend time here in Kingsport — especially here at Hunger First — to give back to Kingsport and share this place with my classmates. I want everyone (in the group) to get something out of this.”
Risk said a day of volunteering for these students should stand out in the current times of economic hardship, and people who need help who fall through the cracks.
“It is humbling to see the folks come through here,” Risk said. “We have one lady who had a good life with good money, then one day the world caved in with no money, no support, no nothing, and she suffered mentally while that was going on. We comforted her, helped her get the care she needed, and we still see her.
“You can save a life by talking to someone. People shouldn’t be afraid of that. We’re not. We are in an urbanized area based in a rural part of the country. That makes us unique, so the situations these kids could see are unlike any place around.”
Kashdan has visited several agencies in different states that are equipped to help the less fortunate, but none, he says, compare to Hunger First.
“There is no judgment here. It is 100 percent love and appreciation,” he said. “Cindy recognizes the inherent worth of every human, and that is something that I find a lot of organizations lack today. The lack to have that open dialogue to get better, to make the community better. Lifting people up is what Cindy wants to do, and that is why my classmates wanted to come here.”
Learn more about Elon University’s Periclean Scholars program at periclean2014. tumblr. com .
Donations can be sent to: Hunger First, 829 Myrtle St., Kingsport, TN 37660.
|Kingsport Christmas Tree Lighting|
|Held on Saturday, December 4, 2010. The Sevier Middle School orchestra played in the progress building at 6:00. The gingerbread house exhibit was held at the Regions bank. Music, reading of the Christmas Story, hot chocolate, hot apple cider and cookies, sing-a-long where held at Church Circle.|