Director of CareNet finding his stride

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Don CapaforteElla Kliger – Contributing Writer

“This is ministry work as well as a human service to the community,” according to Don Capaforte, the director of Macon County Care Network or, as it is known around town, CareNet. Capaforte is a service minded individual who participates in many community event, such as the 30-hour Famine hosted by the First United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Jeana, are currently teaching Raising Kingdom Kids at Cowee Baptist Church. They also participate annually in packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Capaforte’s work in Macon County prior to CareNet was notable for the significant amount of money he raised for Angel Medical Center, including funding for the new cancer center.

“This is a great organization I believe in very strongly, this ministry and this service that they provide to the community. And I love the collaboration with other agencies in the community,” said Capaforte. ”Through my work, especially at the hospital, I have lots of professional connections with other service organizations, to be able to make referrals. CareNet does more than give out food. We make referrals to the Department of Social Services, NC Works, Macon New Beginnings,” he continued. CareNet counsels people and for some who are facing a utility cutoff notice, through an application process, CareNet may be able to provide assistance through donations and grants from Duke Energy. When CareNet runs out of money, they refer people to DSS.

CareNet is well respected in the community, and gains support from a number of churches. Additionally, they receive donations from all sorts of drives around town. They are the recipients of coats, blankets and food from the Cold For A Cause event. Patrick Jenkins spends days in a crane in the elements in January, to draw attention to the plight of people who are living on the streets or cannot afford warm winter coats or blankets. This year, Cold For a Cause donated about 1,500 coats and 1,400 pounds of food.

CareNet serves a hot and healthy lunch to homeless people five days a week, and to all clients on the day during the month when they come in for services. “We want to make sure that the people who need food assistance receive it,” Capaforte said. To this end, a client can send in a representative with their paperwork to pick up food if the client can’t go to the office.

Capaforte supports the initiatives that were in place when he started six months ago. Last year, CareNet switched to Client Choice from pre-packed food boxes. Client Choice enables the people who use the food pantry to select food from the available items. They are walked through the pantry by a volunteer who guides them to the appropriate quantities of each item. “It gives people a sense of dignity. They can shop at what seems like a grocery store. It creates self worth for the clients,” said Capaforte. “Demand has caused us to post some time constraints [for shopping] –  we might see 30 clients in three hours. [The grocery] only has one “check out”, and everything that comes in and goes out is weighed. We track the food to see the volume.”

The tracking of the food gives useful statistics to CareNet and MANNA FoodBank. MANNA partners with CareNet, and 200 other agencies across the region, to help them to acquire food for the community. Client Choice is a mode of operation that is promoted by MANNA and their parent organization, Feeding America, for several reasons. It empowers the clients by allowing them to choose the food for their family, it saves money for the pantries when people skip items that wouldn’t be eaten in the home, and it reduces food waste.

Almost 500 clients were served last month representing 1,059 individuals. Capaforte said that since he started, he has seen the number of clients increase, which has brought home to him the immensity of the need. “Volunteers are only here for a certain amount of time each day,” said Capaforte. CareNet sees clients from 10 – 1, Monday through Friday. “You’ve got to be flexible with the business: it’s a ministry but it’s also a business. We have to be flexible if we’re going to do what we need to do, in order to meet the need of the clients, as well as the volunteers. There’s a balance,” he said. He spoke with pride about the volunteers. “We have volunteer cooks. We have volunteers in our file room, volunteers in our pantry. We run on volunteers.”

One long standing volunteer, Marie Duvall, comes in three days a week. She is often the first person clients meet since she staffs the front office. The staff and volunteers have taken to Capaforte. “He’s really good. I like him,” Duvall said. While we talked, she was busy working with clients and taking documents back to the file room. “We’ve been closed for two days and they’re all trying to come in today,” she said. “When there’s no school, we’re closed.”

She was recently in the hospital and missed five weeks of work but she’s back and ready to serve others. Sandra Queen, the former bookkeeper, first brought her to the organization. “Sandra told Vanessa, ‘Why don’t you call Marie? I believe she’ll be good and she’ll come in.’” Duvall started with interviewing clients but that wasn’t for her. “I don’t think they had anybody doing this [greeting clients] so I just politely came up here and started doing this, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Duvall said. That was 13 years ago. “I like it. It motivates me to get out of the bed of a morning.” Marie is 91.

CareNet has a number of seasonal volunteers who have left for the winter. “We do need volunteers. If people have time, and have the desire to give back to the community, this is an excellent place to have an impact and see an impact on this community through volunteer service,” said Capaforte.

If you’d like to join the team that supplies our neighbors in need with food and services, call CareNet at (828)369-2642.

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