In this time of crisis, with so many people sick and out of work, I thought I would take the time to highlight a pillar in the community that has been serving the people for years. Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place is located in China Grove and has been a true God-send for so many people. With their core values built on helping others and fostering a sense of community, Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place has given those who are down on their luck, a helping hand, and, more importantly, hope.
Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of the community, but its beginnings were more humble. In 2003, Rowan County suffered a major loss. Pillowtech Corporation closed its doors, marking one of the biggest textile shutdowns in United States history. 5,000 people lost their jobs in North Carolina alone, and 700 of those were in Rowan County. With so many people out of work, Main Street Mission was founded to meet the growing needs through resource provision of food and clothing.
“We talked and realized this was something China Grove needed,” said the Rev. Steve Wilson, pastor at First Baptist Church in China Grove in an interview for These are the stories that create Marketplace by Susan Shinn Turner. “We felt it could be a ministry.” Initially a food pantry, it opened with limited hours, staffed by the older members of First Baptist Church in China Grove. Both Wilson and his wife Lucy worked every other Monday at the food pantry, and he eventually became a part of the founding board for Mainstreet Marketplace and Meeting Place. They asked friends and other churches to get involved, and soon, Main Street Mission became a community mission. “There was a sense of community, a sense of helping. We were donating food, and then we invited other churches to donate. Little by little, we got volunteers from other churches and we certainly got food. It was exciting to see this become a community mission.”
How the Mission Works
In 2018, Main Street Mission expanded from 306 S. Main St. to include the former laundromat next door and became more than just a food pantry. Opening as Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place, the food pantry transformed into a community center that focuses on getting people back on their feet and encouraging a helping spirit. The Marketplace went through market research, studies, and seminars that encompass inclusivity and empowerment. They now motivate neighbors through education, encouragement, and continued conversations with those that they serve. They want neighbors to be just as much a part of the organization as the volunteers. Their motto? Where everyone has a place at the table.
The Marketplace and Meeting Place is set up differently from a food pantry. In fact, it acts just like a grocery store. Southern Rowan County citizens in need will receive a certain number of tabs depending on their family size. These tabs are then used in the stores to buy clothing and food items for their family. Neighbors can come in at once or multiple times throughout the month to spend their tabs.
They created the tab system in a partnership with Healthy Rowan. Healthier foods cost fewer tabs, encouraging neighbors to eat healthy. Food Lion started a $5,000 food pantry makeover, donating food, money, and movers to help create a healthy and comforting space that helps empower neighbors. Volunteers at the Marketplace collect about 200 pounds of fresh produce from Food Lion in China Grove each day. This produce is still edible but would have otherwise been discarded by Food Lion.
The creation of the new building was truly a community effort. Nick Golden, South Rowan’s cabinetry teacher, built all the shelving and the counters for Marketplace Thread, the on-site clothing store. The clothing store works just like the grocery store. Neighbors receive tabs to use there where they can purchase clothing at reduced costs.
The new building is meant to empower and help remove the stigma of going to a food pantry. Tom Brooke, a local attorney and President of the Board said, “The empowerment concept seems to be working. There’s less of a barrier between neighbors and volunteers. We will keep listening and keep evolving and changing.”
Moving Out of Poverty
The mission and vision of Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Space is to build a stronger community through neighbors helping neighbors and sharing unconditional love. Most of the “staff” that “works” at the Marketplace are volunteers that give their time and love to help those in need. “Serving at Market and Meeting Place has personally given me a new lens for seeing the world, especially concerning our neighbors. I no longer seek to help with one-way giving, but work to find ways of mutual exchange and create lasting solutions moving beyond symptoms,” says Hope Oliphant, Executive Director.
The Marketplace will always be a place for people to come and gather, whether they are in need or just want to volunteer, but the goal is to move the community forward and help those who are struggling. Hope Oliphant said, “It is our belief at Marketplace and Meeting Place that all people have the potential to move beyond charity. It is our hope to build a stronger community through authentic relationships, creating a better understanding of one another, and seeking long-term solutions.”
Hope says they have a strategic plan moving forward that includes challenging the current model of “charity” that she says just isn’t working anymore. “We hope to bring back the pieces that were lost through the closing of the textile mills. These include a living wage job, a sense of renewed community, a trade you can make with your hands, and affordable housing. Within our offerings we are moving from just resource provision to creating a sustainable environment for all that we seek to serve.”
Big Ideas to Help Others
One way that the Marketplace is evolving and changing is through their community classes, meant to help people get out of poverty and to teach the community about the difficulties of living in poverty. One of those classes is Getting Ahead, designed to teach participants about food, housing, transportation, social support, and employment to get them out of poverty for good.
“Our Getting Ahead class is a 15-week program that helps people examine, ‘What is my life like now and what do I want my future story to be?’”, says Hope Oliphant, Executive Director of Marketplace and Meeting Place. “The class is far more than just financial. It addresses the many resources needed to build a stable life. It’s a holistic approach to becoming more self-sustaining. The participants are able to learn the hidden rules of middle class, and build their resources after taking a personal resource inventory. Through our other classes and workshops (along with new social capital) participants may move toward a healthier life. Those participating receive a stipend for attending, a meal, and childcare is provided.” The class is truly helping the community. According to Hope, out of almost 100 graduates, less than 11% need to return to the market for food on a regular basis.
In the book These are the stories that create Marketplace by Susan Shinn Turner, Jeff Hubbard, now the Director of Operations at the Marketplace, talked about his personal journey with the Marketplace. Originally a police officer in China Grove, the loss of a leg coupled with some difficult times put him in a hard situation. He came to the Marketplace for help and signed up for their Getting Ahead class. “We shared a meal at each session. It was an eye-opening experience. You gain an opportunity to look at your life now and begin to think of changes you want to make. I learned with the right resources I am able to move forward and make healthier choices.” Jeff is the Director of Operations at the Marketplace and can normally be found doing pick-ups. He takes the time to reach out to other organizations and collaborates with partner agencies to make sure that he can get food for the Marketplace. By the summer of 2019, Jeff had only spent a fraction of the organization’s annual retail food budget by making friends. “I enjoy what I do,” he says. “If we have the resources to help our neighbors, then this is what we are going to do.”
The Getting Ahead class is not the only class that the Marketplace offers. They also offer a Bridge Builders workshop for people who are interested in understanding why the gap of the economic class is widening, how people can respond, and how to practice smart charity while working toward a healthy and sustainable community. Hope Oliphant says that the Bridge Builders workshop has given her a new perspective. “Through our Bridges Training, Smart Charity Training, and Getting Ahead program I have learned that it is so much more than just financial as to why people are not able to move to level ground more easily. I’ve learned that that a healthy community requires everyone understanding and building real relationships.”
Marketplace and Meeting Place also offers special workshops that rotate. Check out their website www.marketandmeeting.org for more information on what they offer! Current classes include Yoga, Food is Medicine, Make & Take, Seeking Shalom, and Smart Charity. They are also always looking for volunteers to help serve. If you’re interested in helping your neighbors, visit their website or call 704-859-1898 for more information.
Their normal hours are: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with additional of 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday. The Meeting Place is also open any time that there is a class.
Please note: Due to COVID-19, Marketplace and Meeting Place is operating on an alternative schedule. The Marketplace grocery store is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Boutique is currently closed, and all classes are on hold until further notice.
Rowan County knows its food! Blessed with abundant water supplies from creeks and rivers and good soil in much of the county, our county thrives on and celebrates its long history of farming. Nowhere is that more evident in mid-summer than a drive through western Rowan, where fields of tall green corn meet each other, covering the landscape.
There may be “money on the ground” coming toward Rowan County in The American Jobs Plan, now before Congress, and it is good news for all of us who travel on roads and bridges that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has declared structurally deficient.