The Capacity to Help
Brunswick Family Assistance finds the space it needs to serve families in crisis at a bigger facility in Bolivia.
Stephanie Bowen walks with vigor and determination at the new Brunswick Family Assistance facility in Bolivia. She appreciates having offices for the nine employees, a conference room, a break room, a workstation and especially a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, which stores all the food her organization receives.
Just off Highway 17 on Old Ocean Highway, the 14,000-square-foot metal frame building it occupies as of September 11, 2023, is double the size of its previous location at Twin Creek Plaza in Shallotte. This new facility provides the space Brunswick Family Assistance (BFA) needs to serve the people who seek its help. That number has increased from 3,000 individuals seen in May 2023 to 5,000 monthly since then.
“We served 40,000 individuals in 2022, and the value of our services was $2.5 million,” Bowen says.
Bowen, who took over as BFA executive director in 2016, says based on client feedback, the increase is primarily due to cuts in government benefits and inflation.
“Our clients are the working poor and those living on a fixed income,” she says.
Of the donations this 501(c)(3) nonprofit receives, “90 percent of our funds come from the private sector, and $.92 of every dollar goes to our programs,” she says.
The extensive list of BFA programs include assistance with food, rent, utilities, school supplies, Christmas gifts and more.
Gaps continue to appear, however.
“Almost on a daily basis, we get calls for emergency shelter,” Bowen says. “We refer them to Brunswick Partnership for Housing.”
At times BFA can place families in a motel for a few days, but that situation is unsustainable. “We consider ourselves emergency services,” Bowen says. “We intervene during the time of crisis and help short term. We work with our community partners for the long term.”
A pilot program, Healthy Opportunities Program (HOP), in conjunction with Medicaid, is designed to deliver healthy food to clients to reduce the risk of hospitalization.
Sue Brandon, in her fourth year as chair of the BFA executive board, says she has been a BFA volunteer for the past 15 years.
“That new facility is going to allow Brunswick Family Assistance to serve our clients in a better way,” she says. “Having that big warehouse space will allow us to do everything in-house, not in separate locations. That’s a huge plus for us.”
Brandon explains that in the past BFA had to rent space to conduct their Christmas distribution program.
Another plus is the location.
“We serve all of Brunswick County, and now we’re right in the middle of the county,” Brandon says. “It gives us a different vantage point to serve clients who had a hard time getting to us [in Shallotte].”
Brandon says that BFA needs financial donations, volunteers and food.
“We are the largest nonprofit in Brunswick County that deals with families in crisis,” she says. “We try to serve all our clients to the best of our ability. That takes a lot of resources.”
The Leland office opened in 2018 to serve the clients in the north section of the county. “It operates exactly as we do but on a smaller scale,” Bowen says. “The need was high when we had a satellite office there, so we had to open a full-time office.”
She emphasizes, “There’s a lot of need. A lot of need. It’s not always easy to see. If you turn off Highway 17 in any direction, you’ll find a trailer park. We have to take care of our neighbors.”
Bowen says she understands what her clients endure.
“I grew up poor,” the petite, 5-foot-tall Leland native says. “I watched my mom struggle. She was a client of BFA at one time. Seeing the many aspects of poverty I witnessed as a child made me want to help other people.”
Bowen received her associate’s degree from Brunswick Community College and her bachelor of science degree in social work from UNC Wilmington.
“I landed a job as program director at BFA and have been here ever since,” says Bowen, who recently remarried and is the parent of two daughters and two stepchildren.
Brunswick County owns the land and the building at BFA’s new location, but BFA has a five-year renewable lease and pays $6,000 a month in rent.
“The private/public partnership in Brunswick County is amazing,” Bowen says. “It takes that cooperation for any nonprofit to operate. We work closely with the county, which is super-supportive for the nonprofit sector. We feel grateful to have the county support.”
Seek Help or Offer Help
Brunswick Family Assistance
m (910) 754-4766
929 Old Ocean Highway, Bolivia
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 9 am to 4:30 pm; Wednesday 1 to 4:30 pm; Friday 9 am to 3 pm.; closed each day from noon to 1 pm.
324-1 Village Road, Leland
m (910) 408-1700
Hours: Monday through Thursday