TABOR CITY — “When a prisoner is sentenced to jail, he or she goes out the back door of the courthouse and is guaranteed a warm place to stay and three meals a day. The family leaves the courthouse through the front door and goes home, where they may not have those things,” said Wilbur Ward, a three-year board member from Bladen County for the Matthew 25 Center based in Columbus County.
That sentiment is just one of the sparks that have ignited an effort to raise money for the construction of a facility in Tabor City that would house families of incarcerated men and women at jails and prisons across a six-county region.
But at the core of the group’s mission statement to “Rebuild, Reunite, Remember,” is the simple hope to keep families as close as possible through a challenging time.
“We just think families that stay together have a better chance of successfully integrating back into society,” Ward said. “This house would allow families to come and stay for a weekend, free of charge, so they can visit their family member and offer support.
“Money is limited for many of these families because, in most cases, the bread-winner has been taken out of the picture,” he added.
Ward said the facility would be a Ronald McDonald-type of house located near the prison north of Tabor City (on N.C. 904), but would serve Bladen, Columbus, Brunswick, Robeson, New Hanover and Horry (S.C.) counties.
The idea first arose for a Matthew 25 Center back in 2008, when Tabor City resident Burnett Coleman — who is now the project chairman for the house — visited the Matthew 25 Center in Burgaw. It was there that he was given a vision for those families with loved ones imprisoned at the Tabor Correctional Institute in Columbus County.
Once plans were finalized, the fundraising effort began to build a 5,160-square-foot, four-bedroom facility in tabor City.
“It will be located in Columbus County, but will serve families in the surrounding counties as well,” Ward said.
The Matthew 25 Center Board of Directors has set a goal of $550,000 and has already collected about $220,000 in donations or in-kind items like furniture and building supplies. When the fundraising reaches $165,000 this year in monetary donations, the group will be to apply for a $100,000 grant from the Bob Barker Company Foundation out of Fuguay-Varina and allow for the start of construction.
The Barker Company, founded in 1972, is one of the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of items utilized in correctional facilities across the country.
According to the Matthew 25 Center’s website, the organization was founded on one of the “clearest ministry imperatives of Jesus: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
According to Ward, in addition to a place to stay, the facility would offer families support counseling and educational programs that deal with the special needs of inmate families.
“We don’t want to see families broken apart by the incarceration of a loved one,” Ward said. “Nor do we want to see someone released from prison with nothing to go home to. If we want things to improve for these folks, there has to be assistance available for the incarcerated individual and their family.”
According to reports, Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church has already donated $5,000 to the cause and several other churches in the six-county region are stepping up with donations.
How you can help
Churches, businesses and individuals can get involved in the project through monetary and/or in-kind contributions to the Matthew 25 Center project.
Anyone wanting to contribute can contact Coleman at 910-840-5226 or by email at email@example.com; or Garland McCullen at 910-640-6909 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Joyce Mauldin at 910-770-0706.
Those wishing to send a tax-deductible check — made out to Matthew 25 Center — can do so by mailing it to: Matthew 25 Project, P.O. Box 313, Tabor City, N.C. 28463.
For information on the Matthew 25 Project in Tabor City, go online to www.matthew25tc.com.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.