PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro is entering a new era: 11 years after its creation, the volunteer-run organization that works to address hunger and poverty in the community has hired its first executive director.

Sarah Dudzic relocated to North Carolina from Connecticut and is taking charge following 15 years in nonprofit leadership. The board announced the appointment on January 19. Currently, the organization holds food drives in more than 160 neighborhoods, and its website says the group has provided $2.8 million in food since its inception in 2010.

Dudzic spoke to the INDY this week about her experience, food insecurity, and what she hopes to accomplish.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

“I started my career in teaching. From teaching in independent schools, I jumped over to teaching adult education and running an adult education center. From there, I jumped into nonprofit executive leadership as the executive director of a domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy organization. I’ve also had experience running other nonprofits since then.”

What drew you to PORCH, and to North Carolina?

“In part, the move to North Carolina is personal—our kids are older and out of the house, and we’re thinking about a new place where it’s a little warmer. But what drew me to PORCH is the incredible grassroots organizing that they do. They’re taking care of food insecurity and hunger in the community, but they’re also building community. People are getting to know each other—it happens at the ground level, and to me, that’s incredibly inspiring.”

Why is food insecurity such an important issue?

“Food insecurity is at the core of so many other issues. If you don’t have food and you have kids, kids can’t learn if they’re hungry. A lot of times food insecurity is connected to lack of education, lack of jobs that pay sustainable wages.

Right now in our country, we’re seeing the dissolution of the middle class. It’s getting harder and harder for the average person to make ends meet. The recommended allotment of your income to spend on housing should be 30 percent or below. If you look at the housing prices in the area, and the rental prices in the area, you’ll see that it takes a high wage to afford to live anywhere—there isn’t a state in the nation where you can afford a two-bedroom apartment on a minimum wage job, even at full time. Food is at the core of health, and health underlies all of those things.”

What does it mean for you to be the first Executive Director of PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro?

“Oh my gosh, I am totally humbled and honored. This organization has been doing this work for more than 10 years with all volunteers, and everything that they’ve done is so well-documented. The records are kept impeccably. The commitment from the people that I’ve spoken with and met with is absolutely unbelievable. A lot of the volunteers are working on this like it’s a full-time job. That’s how passionate they are. To me, it’s just a really exciting time for the organization to broaden our scope and serve more folks. 

What are ways the average person in Chapel Hill can get involved with the organization?

“If you look at our website, you’ll see a list of nonperishable foods that we can always use. We can always use monetary donations, and if people are interested in volunteering they can also find that information on our website. I know that because of COVID, we are trying to be very careful about how we organize volunteers. So hopefully, as COVID releases its grip, we’ll be able to do more of just welcoming people to come on and join what we do, but for now, we’re keeping a tight grip on how many people we have for activity, for safety reasons.”

Anything else you want to share about PORCH?

“PORCH has the Food For Pantries programs, where we help stock shelves of multiple pantries. Right now, we’re probably in the neighborhood of maybe six, but I think it’s been as many as 12 or 13. We have Food For Families, where we actually get fresh produce and fresh food—eggs, chicken, produce—out to families with young children in the public schools. We also have a snack program in our Food For Schools.

We have these programs in these different areas that we’d like people to know about, and we want to encourage people to check out our website and get in touch with us that way if they have any questions, or they’d like to get involved.”

This interview has been edited for space and clarity. Learn more about PORCH on their website.

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