ECCCM: A Story of Service
In the beginning
Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry (ECCCM) was organized in 1969 with an ecumenical vision to maximize services to people in need.
Rev. Banks Shepherd, pastor of Bethany and Smyrna United Churches of Christ, sparked the founding of ECCCM. A phone call from an unsuspecting woman needing a new refrigerator and cook stove. On a hunch, he called other area ministers to learn that the same woman had already received these appliances. Clearly, the combined efforts of Christians throughout Eastern Catawba County could eliminate duplication and accomplish far more than individual congregations.
A meeting was held on March 25, 1969 at Grace Reformed United Church of Christ to organize what would become ECCCM. Besides Rev. Shepherd, the committee included local pastors Fletcher Andrews, Oscar Burwick, John Lindler, Lester Roof Jr., Edouard Taylor and Andrew Wilkerson and lay leaders Roy Duncan, Floy Hewitt, Frances Reinhardt and Ray Eugene Sigmon.
The meaning of the name was very important: Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry: Eastern Catawba - this defines the geographic scope that would be served and would not conflict with CCM of Greater Hickory; Cooperative – defines the voluntary way of operating for the most efficient and effective use of funds. ECCCM seeks to involve any Christian congregation that believes in our mission; Ministry – identifies what we are all about.
Articles of incorporation were filed in 1970 with Grace Gaither, Rev. Donald George, Howard Kelly, Rev. Shepherd and Rev. Wilkerson as directors.
St. James Lutheran Church of Newton was the first congregation to officially join ECCCM. Tutoring of school children became one of the first missions. A prison ministry was soon added in association with CCM of Greater Hickory. Another early project was Love-N-Care to assist working parents who could not afford day care.
First home of ECCCM
ECCCM’s first headquarters was established when Rev. William McInnis, a retired minister, was appointed as volunteer coordinator. His office was housed in the former nurses’ residence on East O Street where ECCCM operations would remain for the next 30 years.
The 1970s ushered in a clothing closet, a fuel (emergency) fund, assistance with rent & utilities, a counseling ministry, emergency food distribution center and the beginning of the county’s Head Start program for children.
First Executive Director named
ECCCM’s first paid staff member came in 1975 with the hiring of Mrs. Doris Fish as executive secretary who would become the first executive director and serve in that position until 1998 at Mrs. Fish’s retirement. Many of the programs, which began under Mrs. Fish, continue to be a vital part of ECCCM’s ministry.
The ministry has been blessed from its beginning with great board members and the volunteers have been a life line for the ministry. Hundreds of people continue to volunteer each year and provide vital services in areas that would otherwise go unmet.
More community outreach
In 1978, with 24 member churches, ECCCM absorbed the Maiden Cooperative Christian Association. Long-time volunteers Aaron and Novella Smith, who had volunteered to organize the clothing closet, a relationship which would become prove one of the most enduring volunteer commitments to ECCCM. They were honored by WBTV with a Nine Who Care award in 1982. Adult basic education, CROP Walk, the countywide Christmas Bureau and Meals-on-Wheels were introduced in the 1980s.
With its treasury depleted in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the community rallied with a host of benefits including “I Survived Hugo” t-shirt sales, WNNC’s “Freeze Out Hunger” promotion, and a fashion show and golf tournament which became annual events.
Elizabeth Setzer became ECCCM’s first female president in 1990. At the ministry’s 25th anniversary in 1994, there were 500 individual contributors and 52 member churches.
Rev. Tony E. Bunton was hired as executive director at Mrs. Fish’s retirement in April 1998. At that time, the ministry was providing 26 family services per day (6,500 per year). In 1999 ECCCM and Greater Hickory CCM joined forces to distribute Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) for the county from the Department of Social Services. The ministry expanded its Head Start program from 112 to 166 children and opened a new center on Fairgrove Church Road. In July, 2009 ECCCM became a contract agency for Catawba County DSS, distributing crisis intervention program funds to applicants according to state qualification standards.
A New Building
The effects of the 2001 recession and expanded services stretched resources to the maximum. Clearly, a larger, more appropriate facility was needed. The ECCCM Board of Directors began a study to see if it was feasible to expand the Center on O Street. When this was deemed unacceptable the Board began to search in the community to find a vacant building for the ministry, but no suitable facility was found. The Catawba County Commissioners were approached and agreed to provide three acres of land in south Newton for a new facility.
The Board decided unanimously to build a new home for ECCCM and launch the “Building for the Future” capital campaign. Jerome W. Bolick, W. Stine Isenhower and James M. Templeton co-chaired the effort to raise more than $1 million in pledges and donations.
Groundbreaking was held on June 28, 2005. Exactly five months later, on Monday, November 28, 2005 ECCCM opened for business in the new 9,400 square foot center. At that time, the ministry was providing 135 family services per day (26,000 per year). This building was dedicated on Sunday, January 15, 2006.
In conjunction with the capital campaign, Tim Elliott of Elliott Design in Newton designed a new logo for the ministry. The stained-glass rendition in the lobby is dedicated to Rev. Bunton, “for his tireless efforts in making this building a reality.”
Organized in 1969, Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, Inc. is one of two Catawba County Christian Ministries. The ECCCM received its NC non-profit status under the IRS Section 501(c)3 in 1971; all gifts to ECCCM are tax deductible to the fullest extent as provided under the law. It is located at 245 East N Street in Newton.
The membership consists of 80 supportive congregations from all denominations in Eastern Catawba County. “Working together, we are able to accomplish that which we could not do individually.” To maintain contact with its member churches a monthly newsletter is provided to all the member and non-member churches as well as an annual church conference where all members and visitors are encouraged to attend to receive updated information on ECCCM.
In May 2010, recognizing the growth of ECCCM’s ministry, the Board of Directors called Rev. Robert Silber as the first full time Executive Director of ECCCM. At that time, ECCCM was providing crisis services to an average of 90 persons per day. Rev. Silber had served on the Capital Campaign for the new ministry building, and on the ECCCM Board of Directors including President of the Board. In addition he has also served United Methodist congregations in Iredell, Catawba, and Cabarrus Counties. ECCCM has been serving the people of Catawba County since 1969 and Rev. Silber becomes the third executive director in the ministry’s forty-one year history.
Under Rev. Silber's leadership, ECCCM has begun expanding its scope of crisis ministries as well as developing a number of community partnerships to enable holistic services and greater efficiency. The Backpack for Kids Program began in July, 2010, in partnership with Catawba County DSS, providing food to at-risk children experiencing food insecurity; this program was later replaced with the Student Hunger Prevention Program. The Crisis Assistance Coaching Program (CACP) launched in January, 2012, in partnership with The Family Guidance Center, a program to provide education and assistance to eliminate crisis assistance situations from reoccurring. After months of development, in January, 2011 ECCCM began using the CHIN database and moved to a paperless office, saving resources of paper and copier costs. With greater efficiency and due to the aftermath of the great recession, ECCCM was serving up to 150 persons per day with emergency crisis assistance. In January, 2013, ECCCM entered into another partnership with Catawba County DSS with an early childhood food insecurity program.
2014 began a time of critical review for all programs, ensuring that ECCCM is serving the current needs within the community with efficiency and efficacy. To achieve a systemic approach to student hunger, ECCCM's Hunger Prevention Program was expanded to serve the families of Newton-Conover City School system students that are experiencing food insecurity issues. A twelve-month program that coincides with the school year, adequate commodities are provided to the family. In the fall of 2015, the now Student Hunger Prevention Program was expanded to include all Newton-Conover City Schools and all Catawba County Schools, grades K-12 with a 12-month program.
With further development of hunger programs, consideration was made for those who are homeless, providing appropriate commodities for the transient on weekly basis.
Launched in 2011, the Crisis Assistance Coaching Program is providing a critical impact on the lives of crisis recipients. Additional case management staff is being moved into the program as basic financial literacy education, debt reduction, goal setting, menu preparation and menu creation strategies are combined with job search and resume assistance. Through this effective program, crisis clients are learning essential life skills and returning to self-reliance.
2015 saw a realignment of staff positions as Kristal Manning was named as Assistant Director, working with the Executive Director in the day-to-day operations. All interviewers were trained and transitioned to Case Managers, assigned to clients and fully managing their case history. With continued growth and activity in the food pantry and thrift store, the Director of Food Pantry Operations oversees these operations, which includes warehouse management and volunteer coordination.
The work of ECCCM is supervised by an eighteen member Board of Directors appointed from the community and supportive churches. The day-to-day operations are under the supervision of its Executive Director, Rev. Robert Silber, (828) 465-1702