“I always say, ’Don’t think one person can’t make a difference,’” says Kristie Disbrow, founder of Matthew’s Ministry, a non-profit organization that provides weekend food service to schoolchildren every week. “I think sometimes people see a really big problem and think, ‘I’m not getting involved. What could I do?’ The answer is, a lot. When you take a step of faith and get started, everything else falls into place.”
Disbrow is a one person organization - a mild-mannered mother of two with a soft southern accent. In 2010, she started a prayer group for her kids’ school and received a shocking request. “The teacher asked us to pray for a child who did not have any food at home,” says Disbrow. “I was very blown away by that. If you told me that today in 2015, I wouldn’t be surprised. You don’t have to leave the country to feed hungry people.”
Food is a basic need, and yet an alarming number of children, 27% of the population in Drisbow’s home county of Brunswick, NC are labeled as “food insecure,” meaning outside of the breakfast and lunch provided through the public schools, these kids do not know where their next meal will come from. “Food is something children should not have to worry about,” says Drisbow. “Their focus should be on growing and learning and developing.” Numerous studies show that kids who are fed perform better academically and have fewer behavioral issues. Matthew’s Ministry does more than fill bellies, it changes lives.
That day in 2010 Drisbow’s step of faith inspired her to provide food to one child, but she quickly discovered there were hundreds of children with that fundamental need- and hundreds of volunteers and donors willing to share the burden. “With the help of other people, we’re making a big difference.”
Wilsonart recently got the chance to lend its support, quite literally, to Matthew’s Ministry. When the plastic tables used for packing food continually collapsed, volunteers utilized Wilsonart x You, the company’s custom laminate program, to build tables that not only perform, but inspire.
The name Matthew’s Ministry comes from Bible verses Matthew 25:31-40, which includes such universally relatable reminders of compassion as, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Kristie Disbrow does not have a background in non-profits, fundraising or community activism- though she has become an expert in those areas in recent years. What she has is a powerful combination of faith, courage and enthusiasm that inspires others to get involved.
That first September in 2010, Disbrow simply put a bin on her porch and asked friends to donate food, which she delivered to the social worker at school. “The response was amazing. By Thanksgiving my dining room looked like a food pantry,” says Disbrow. Every year since then more students and schools have been added to the program. Matthew’s Ministry is now a full-time endeavor that delivers weekend backpacks filled with food to 800 kids in 13 schools. The organization does not receive public money and does not have any paid staff. Four spaces used for warehousing and packing are donated, as are all business, transportation, building and maintenance services. The generosity of the 100+ volunteers of Matthew’s Ministry means that all the money collected goes directly to food for the children.
One Ministry volunteer is Terry Eason II, who organizes many of the building projects for Matthew’s Ministry. “I got a call from Kristie asking if I could build her some tables because she was using plastic tables to package the food on,” says Eason. “A lot of the food is canned and the tables kept breaking. She wanted something strong, safe and easy to clean.”
Eason met with a group of volunteers, including Bill Zeron, a hobby woodworker and furniture builder. Together the group devised a two-tiered table design that allows volunteers to stage food beneath the packing surface for a quicker process. “We decided on High Pressure Laminate (HPL) surfaces because the material is really durable and strong, so the top adds dimensional stability to the table,” says Zeron. “We used an MDF substrate reinforced with furring strips and left a little overhang on the HPL tops. Then I used my router to cut and profile trim boards to give the tables a nice neat edge.”
Though Disbrow had simply asked for six functional tables, the volunteers working on the project saw an opportunity to give her, and everyone else involved in packing backpacks for the kids, a little something special. “Looking at HPL, I came across Wilsonart’s custom program WxY, and I thought it would be awesome if the tabletops could give encouragement to the individuals packaging the food,” says Eason. “So we came up with designs that incorporated Bible verses and inspirational quotes. Wilsonart printed them within a couple of weeks. I still get a little emotional just thinking about it and how excited I was when I found out we were getting those tabletops. They look nice. They really do.”
Sometimes a small kindness, like wanting to make certain a child has enough to eat, can have a positive ripple effect throughout an entire community- turning into something that helps to nurture and sustain hundreds of children throughout their school years. Sometimes small details can let a person know just how much her efforts are appreciated. “I had no idea they had custom laminate made for the tabletops. I was just happy to have durable tables,” says Disbrow. “When the tables were delivered, I was blown away by how beautiful they are. It really meant a lot.”
Click here to view a PDF of this case study.