Rising food, fuel costs a concern as SVCM prepares for difficult winter

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Volunteers keep SVCM running smoothly, though they can be hard to come by in the summer months.

When the community is in need, the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry answers the call.

"SVCM provides invaluable services to some of our most vulnerable citizens," said Black Mountain Mayor Larry Harris. "The leadership at SVCM helps our community to know where the needs are and is a faithful steward of financial support from local churches and citizens."

Harris thanked SVCM on behalf of Town Council and town staff for the work done by the organization. With the ministry in town, he said, the community is a better place.

Cheryl Wilson, executive director of SVCM, said rising gas prices are worrisome, particularly as winter approaches. She said for a client, 100 gallons of fuel costs $481.

"Funding is pretty much sort of down for all of us," Wilson said. "The last two years, with the stimulus checks, people were donating a lot of that money to us."

Jeff Erson helps unload food during a volunteer shift with his grandkids, John and Lydia Isler.

Now, Wilson said she's hoping gas prices will go down. She said SVCM will continue to look for additional grant funding as a means to prepare for the winter months.

Fundraising events such as Deck the Trees, a winter holiday Christmas Tree contest, raised roughly $40,000 this past year. Wilson credited events like this and increased holiday donations with helping the organization pay for its clients' winter necessities.

"We're not going to let anybody freeze to death," Wilson said. "When you have to do 100 gallons, it's going to be more costly."

Although donations are down, Wilson said she's confident SVCM will be able to continue to provide for the community as it always has. Even when volunteers become scarce in the summer, community members continue to step up and help out.

SVCM volunteer Joan Widmayer helps organize the food pantry to be ready for clients.

SVCM serves from the VA medical center to the east, including Black Mountain, Ridgecrest, east Asheville and the surrounding areas. SVCM is a crisis ministry, serving clients with all aspects of financial assistance from housing to health to food.

"We've done a lot of rental assistance this past year," Wilson said. "It's a lot of times working together to make sure people stay housed."

In addition to providing fuel and housing assistance for clients, SVCM also as a robust pantry and collection of clothing at its Black Mountain headquarters. In the summer, the organization also provides donated fans for clients without air conditioning.

SVCM's pantry contains nonperishables as well as fresh produce, baking supplies and other grocery items.

During the pandemic, SVCM didn't allow clients into the building to pick out clothing or groceries themselves. Instead, clients would fill out a list and volunteers would bring items out to them.

"I know that the clients that come thank us and are glad, but we still just miss the interaction," Wilson said. "Getting to know and getting to talk to them I think just helps them more, being able to share with us what's going on in their lives."

However, even during the height of the pandemic, SVCM never closed its doors. 

Cheryl Wilson, the executive director of SVCM, discussed how the organization has adapted to deal with challenges in the past few years.

Most of the organization's food comes from MANNA FoodBank, while clothing donations come from the community. With plenty of food coming in, Wilson said this year's Oct. 9 Walk For Your Neighbor, one of SVCM's primary fundraisers, will go toward money for electric bills.

"We've been doing a lot of electric bills, some housing, some rental assistance," Wilson said. "Then we always do medical bills, we help with that, we help with vehicle repairs, especially if they're working."

In 2021, Walk For Your Neighbor raised $61,675.

In addition to an extensive pantry, SVCM offers clothing for all ages from a large collection at its Black Mountain office.

Along with neighboring Black Mountain nonprofit Bounty & Soul, Wilson said SVCM has seen more and more locals living in vehicles. Helping pay for upkeep of these vehicles has always been a part of SVCM's mission.

SVCM also provides clients with gas vouchers, though with increased gas prices, Wilson said vouchers don't go as far. 

Especially for older people, Wilson said keeping clients warm in the winter will prove to be a challenge with the rising fuel costs. She said SVCM will pay what it needs to pay to meet its clients' needs. 

"It's going to be a really interesting winter to see what we can do," Wilson said. "This community is amazing and will come together to make sure everyone is assisted."

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.