April 1, 2013

Hatteras Island Meals is making a comeback


When Hatteras Island Meals was forced to suspend its operations in January, the future of the organization looked uncertain—it was thousands of dollars in debt and lacked a clear plan to address and resolve its most critical issues. 

But now, as a result of some important changes, a little restructuring, and a lot of community support, Hatteras Island Meals is slowly but surely reclaiming its wheels. 

After suspending operations, then-president Dale Wheeler organized a series of public meetings to assess the future of the organization. 

At the initial meeting on Monday, Feb. 18 at the Fessenden Center, Wheeler announced that he was looking for community members to form an ad hoc committee that would, over the course of the next four weeks, work to address the organization’s woes.

But one of the attendees, Natalie McIntosh—who is the director of operations at REAL Watersports in Waves and had been volunteering as a driver for Hatteras Island Meals since the previous November—didn’t see any reason to wait that long. 

And it’s her impatience that has led to the revival of Hatteras Island Meals.

By the end of the first meeting, McIntosh had collected the names and contact information of those who attended, and she created an e-mail list.

Within a week, she had created a Facebook page for the organization, worked with designers at Cineaptic Digital Media to create a new logo, and secured the domain names hatterasislandmeals.org, .com, and .net in anticipation of creating a website.

And when Wheeler was unable to lead the second public meeting on Feb. 25, McIntosh and fellow driver Rene Midgett stepped up to conduct it. 

At that second meeting, McIntosh and Midgett addressed the financial state of the organization, determining that the organization owed a total of $11,035.95 to its vendors.

They also reviewed the income and expense reports from the two previous years and discussed how the organization got so badly behind.

“In 2011, [Hatteras Island Meals] started with $40,000 in the bank,” McIntosh explained. “After Irene, it really started to erode...the amount of need and the money going out outpaced the money coming in.”

Reviewing the income and expenses reports provided the public with the specific information they had been asking for since January, but assessing the causes for the financial decline also revealed deeper, more systemic problem: Hatteras Island Meals was all but invisible.

There was no one in charge of outreach, no way to acknowledge consistent donors and recruit new ones, no one to organize events, no one to communicate with the vendors.

“Basically,” McIntosh said, “there was [no way] for us to cry from the rooftops, ‘We have a problem!’”

By the end of the meeting, McIntosh and Midgett had solicited ideas for fundraising events, discussed ways to lower costs, and talked about ways to generate more private donations.

For McIntosh, one of the most encouraging outcomes was the support she felt from the vendors who attended the meeting. “They weren’t as concerned about getting their money back as they were about getting things back on track,” she said. “That was encouraging.”

Not too long after that second meeting, Wheeler resigned his position as president of the organization, and McIntosh wasted no time filling the void in leadership.

She organized a board meeting and suggested a slight restructuring of the board. Two board members resigned, and McIntosh proposed that two new board positions be created—donations director and events director—positions she felt would address the deficiencies in communication and outreach that had been revealed at the second meeting.

Midgett has volunteered to fill the position of donations director, but the position of events director is still vacant.

In addition, McIntosh volunteered to serve as interim president of the organization.

She agreed to serve for three months, explaining that she thought it would only be fair that she and the board get to know one another before making any permanent decisions—to make sure it’s a good fit for both of them.

So far, it seems her work speaks for itself.

She presented the board with a proposed budget, which included an estimated per diem cost of operation and a way to pay back the vendors proportionally—based on the percentage of the organization’s debt that they are owed.

So far, Hatteras Island Meals has secured around $4,300 in donations—including donations from the Hatteras village and the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo civic associations—and when their next round of checks goes out next week, they will have reduced their debt to just over $6,000.

And McIntosh hopes that they will be delivering meals again soon—though at a graduated pace, starting with delivery three days per week, and working back up to full service from there.

“I don’t feel great about moving forward without a cushion and without having our vendors repaid in full,” she said. 

But with any luck, it won’t be too long before the organization has a little nest egg.

In addition to working with the county to secure funds, Hatteras Island Meals has several exciting fundraising initiatives coming up.

Two events are scheduled for the near future. The first is a Karma Yoga benefit event on April 22 at Spa Koru.

Tami Thompson will teach a beginner-level yoga class from 5:30 to 7 p.m.  Admission will be by donation only, and all donations will go to Hatteras Island Meals.

The second event, Hatteras Island Meals Barbeque, will be on May 2, from 5 – 8 p.m., at the Koru Village Beach Klub. 

The event will feature live music, Crazy Johnny’s Bar-B-Que, a raffle, and a silent auction. To attend the event, individuals will have to purchase a membership to the Beach Klub—that they will get to keep and use all year—and Spa Koru will donate all proceeds from the sales to Hatteras Island Meals.

In addition, Wes Lassiter, who owns Red Drum Pottery, has promised that, for every ticket he sells to the weekly Banjo Island shows at the pottery, he will donate $1 to Hatteras Island Meals.

And, in what is perhaps the most exciting initiative so far, a generous benefactor has issued a challenge to the Hatteras Island community that, if met, would put $20,000 in Hatteras Island Meals’ coffers.

This individual—who would prefer to remain anonymous—has promised that if Hatteras Island Meals can raise $10,000 in non-county donations by May 12, then he or she will match it.

Donations can be made at any branch of The East Carolina Bank. Or, you can send a check payable to Hatteras Island Meals, Inc., P.O. Box 854, Buxton, NC 27920.

You can also follow Hatteras Island Meals on Facebook.

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