By Richard Rourk
As the people of Unicoi County prepare to clean for the fall, a special group is accepting donations for a special cause.
The Giving Cupboard is a post where supply truly meets demand.
“The Giving Cupboard is for the community and will only succeed if kept up by the community,” Giving Cupboard co-founder Laura Elliott said. “Citizens can donate at any time by stocking the cupboard directly. The cupboard has a list of acceptable items on the inside of the cupboard door. Items are unopened/sealed, in date non-perishable foods with labels on them. Also, personal hygiene items, household products, and pet foods are accepted.”
The idea for the Giving Cupboard, which is currently located at the Unicoi County Library, is one resident and current Miss Appalachian Highlands Outstanding Teen Leah Brotherton has had for a long time.
“Leah had been filling up blessing boxes in Kingsport and Johnson City for years,” Brotherton’s mother and Giving Cupboard co-founder, Tammy Brotherton, said. “Leah has been trying to start the Giving Cupboard in Erwin since March 2020.”
The dream became a reality when Brotherton saw a request from Elliott on her popular Facebook page, The Erwin Buzz, which allows posters to stay informed with everything Unicoi County.
“The Erwin Buzz has been in effect for almost four years,” Elliott said. “Over that time, it has grown to 3,500 members. Through many prayers, I believe it has been laid on my heart to use my time and my community group to do for others. Once, what I call the ‘COVID era’ hit, it has taken a toll on the community as a whole. Businesses have suffered loss and individuals have suffered as well. It seems the tone of the community has changed and I wanted to try and help.
“I reached out to The Erwin Buzz members and simply asked what could we do as volunteers to help? The replies came and great suggestions were made. One member, Tammy Brotherton, said her daughter Leah has been trying since March to have a local blessing box put in. But has been unsuccessful. That is when Pamela Bradshaw replied she had a cabinet to donate and just as quickly as the idea was introduced, so was the cabinet made. With permission from the Unicoi County Library, I got to work painting and decorating the cabinet. Hollie did exceptional work. She deserves the most credit for completion.”
According to Brotherton, the Giving Cupboard is accepting numerous items for those in need. “We accept all non-perishable food items,” Brotherton said. “Examples would be peanut butter, crackers, individually wrapped food, pop open can goods. Pop tarts, cereal, and personal hygiene items as well as diapers, formula, and wraps and cat and dog food. We hope the community will continue to help us by keeping the cabinet filled all year long. Without the community help we won’t be able to keep serving.
“You take your items and place them in the Giving Cupboard and the person in need can go by the cabinet and get what they need. No one is judging and it is put in place to help anyone who might need food or personal hygiene items or baby items. If anyone needs something they can contact Laura Elliott on Facebook at The Erwin Buzz.”
For Elliott, the opportunity to serve the community is something she had been called to do.
“Through lots of prayer I feel this is the direction for me,” Elliott said. “It has been laid on my heart to help others. So I, along with other dedicated members, heard what the community wanted and we tried our best to make it happen for them. I believe God provided what we needed and we carried it through. It can be challenging trying to raise a family and juggle two different page projects. Thankfully, I don’t do it on my own and couldn’t if I tried.”
The Giving Cupboard has been such a success that a second location is in the process of opening.
“The Giving Cupboard is currently being expanded to Unicoi,” Elliott said. “Jones Hardware has graciously given permission to place one on their property. Pamela Bradshaw has donated a second cabinet and Hollie Michelsen has fully taken that project over. For now, we only plan to have two and see how that goes before making any further decisions.”
One of the perks on the Giving Cupboard is that anybody can help, and in many different ways.
“We have no corporate backers or financial means except through the community itself,” Elliott said. “The people of Unicoi County are very passionate about their community. They want to see it thrive. When they support an idea, they make it happen whether it be through donations or volunteering time. I think we need to utilize them more. Ask the community what the community wants.
“The other main source helping us is local businesses. What a blessing it is to have so much support by business owners here. I try to give them as much credit as possible when they become involved. They deserve it. We also use our local businesses as much as possible for supplies needed during our projects. Right now, all we do is use the largest member based community pages to get the word out, and have also called businesses for support if needed.”
According to Elliott, programs like the Giving Cupboard are only successful when the community comes together.
“Unicoi County citizens are the backbone of anything we do. Credit goes to those who step up and volunteer their time or donate to our causes,” Elliott said. “They want what is best for their community, and they have proven together they can make it happen. Hollie Michelsen, the Bradshaws and Leah Brotherton are the reason the Giving Cupboard was implemented and they deserve the credit for it.”
For the members that formed the Giving Cupboard, the ability to serve makes the hard work worthwhile.
“The Giving Cupboard is valuable in the sense of helping our neighbors when times get tough,” Elliott said. “Since the railroad closing and now this COVID era has taken place, people and families are struggling. Many who won’t ask for help. We hope this will give them the opportunity to take what they need when they need it without feeling like the world is watching. It also gives others a chance to do something for someone else. We have received pictures of the youth participating and I admit it is one beautiful sight to see.”
Anyone who would like to see or join in on future community projects are welcome to join The Erwin Buzz on Facebook. Updates on how Elliott and company support local first responders can be found at facebook.com/ucfrst. You can follow Leah Brotherton on Facebook at facebook.com/Miss-Appalachian-Highland-Outstanding-2020-Leah-Brotherton to keep up with other projects.