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Pay It Forward: Overflowing Hands

By Sara Cope

Most of us have been there. You see someone in need but aren’t exactly sure how to help. Something or someone tugs at your heart, but you think, “Can I alone really make a difference?” You want to serve your community in some way but aren’t sure where to start. These questions and nudges led to the creation of Overflowing Hands, a local nonprofit organization that is passionate about serving children.

More than 15 years ago, a small group came together in Raleigh to form a 100% volunteer organization to provide relief to the poor, the distressed and the underprivileged. The goal was to join forces to help more kids reach their highest potential with the belief that we are stronger together.

Serving can be as basic as providing food, clothing, shelter and health care to children. Other ways of serving can include serving on a construction mission trip, rebuilding a home, volunteering at a youth camp or helping deliver youth development strategies to teenagers. The work of Overflowing Hands encompasses many different opportunities to serve while keeping its promise to children everywhere: to serve, empower and transform. Highlights of the work include:

  • North Carolina families have volunteered to host more than 400 children from Belarus who have been affected by the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. While the Belarusian children are in the United States, their bodies are recuperating from effects of the nuclear radiation as they form permanent bonds with their American host families. During the six-week summer program, Overflowing Hands coordinates medical care, dental visits, eye care visits and prescription glasses when needed, clothing exchanges, vacation bible school, fun outings and even a birthday bash party hosted by the Angus Barn, where each child gets to decorate their own birthday cake. “The annual birthday bash that the Angus Barn does for the Belarusian children is truly one of the highlights of our year,” said Steve Thanhauser, co-owner of the Angus Barn. “It is rare that you can experience true joy, and that is what you witness and feel with each one of these kids throughout the entire day. It is so much more of a gift for Van, myself and our team that volunteers that day. To watch these kids smile is very special.”
  • Volunteers are currently serving 20,000 hot meals to children and teenagers every month at Hope Centers in Nicaragua. Overflowing Hands partners with International Cooperating Ministries (ICM) to build these Hope Centers, which serve as a community center, feeding center, youth center for after-school activities, foster home and a church. Kids go there to be safe, to play, to study and learn, to be encouraged and receive hot meals.
  • Overflowing Hands partners with “Empowered Dreamers” in Nicaragua, Young Life Bahamas, Sanchez Ministry in Madrid, Spain, Kingdom Christian Academy in Puerto Rico, and the Sonshine Children Center in Linefork, Kentucky, to support their children’s programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity for Overflowing Hands to serve locally in Wake County. When public schools were forced to close their buildings and move to remote learning, thousands of students no longer had access to the regular meals provided through the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program. Seeing this need and wanting to make a positive impact, Overflowing Hands and Rocky Top Catering partnered together to help feed 2,000 families affected by the pandemic. Rocky Top Catering staff and Overflowing Hands’ volunteers visited neighborhoods every week to make sure kids and families had access to healthy and delicious food.

“We saw a huge need in our community and knew we needed to jump in and help,” said Dean Ogan, owner of Rocky Top Catering in Raleigh. “But we couldn’t do it alone. Thanks to our longstanding relationship with Overflowing Hands and many of our amazing vendor partners, we were able to respond quickly. It started with just a couple of neighborhoods and quickly grew. It was a perfect project for our company’s philanthropic motto of ‘neighbors helping neighbors.’”

The “Feeding Hungry Kids Program” operated for 17 months to distribute nutritious meals and produce to more than 50 neighborhoods in Wake County. It was a grassroots effort of volunteers, business partners and financial supporters joining together to make a difference in our local community. In total, more than 600 volunteers distributed 675,000 fresh, nutritious meals and 4 million pounds of produce, milk and eggs to Wake County children and families. Again, together we are stronger.

Rocky Top Catering and Overflowing Hands hope to come together again in 2022 to help fight food insecurity in our community. Cooking for a Classic is an annual fundraising event that pairs some of the Triangle’s top chefs against each other in a friendly culinary competition to raise money for local nonprofits.

The idea for this event started with Ogan. Thinking back to a previous long-running cooking competition that was both fun and successful, he began to ponder how such an event could be brought back to the area with a charitable focus. Which brings us back to those partnerships.

Using his relationships with others in the hospitality industry, Ogan quickly gathered a team of vendors willing to support the cause. US Foods, Got To Be NC, f8 Photo Studios, SPIN, CE Rentals, Trophy Brewing and others jumped on board and the first Cooking for a Classic event was held in 2017. The event has since raised more than $400,000 for charities in the community, including the Lucy Daniels Center in Cary. The event was not able to be held last year and may take a different format this year due to the ongoing pandemic, but the commitment to collaborate and serve stands strong.

 The partnership between Overflowing Hands and Rocky Top Catering continues to make a big difference in our local community. It’s these types of relationships among nonprofit organizations, businesses and volunteers that make meaningful, long-term impacts in our local and global communities. “At first, we thought we would serve meals for about six weeks and then life would get back to normal. We never imagined we would serve food to so many people and make such a big impact in our community,” said Chandler Ellis, executive director of Overflowing Hands. An individual should never underestimate the possibilities of a charity, one small business or even one person to make a substantial impact. When resources, creativity and ingenuity are brought together, big things can happen. It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors.