HARRELLS — Inside a high tunnel, Russell Lee looked at several rows of crops on a windy afternoon.
With an interior watering system, the gardener is looking forward to extending the growing season inside the polytunnel to produce mustard greens, turnips, kale and collard greens.
“This is a conductor of heat and it can grow,” Lee said about farming through the cooler months.
After the crops are picked from the dirt, the profits are going to benefit a nearby building for senior citizens. Lee and other supporters are working to raise funds for the Harrells Nutrition Site, which serves close to 30 senior citizens.
“What don’t we need? What we’re trying to do is renovate this building,” said Lee, president of the site’s board.
Some of those needs include painting and new windows. One of the last contributions from Sampson County officials was a roof replacement. Lee said that happened about three years ago. Harrells Nutrition Site recently received a grant for new lights from Four County Electric. They have applied for grants, but a lot of them require matching funds — something they can’t afford.
“With that, you have to have money to get money,” Lee said. “We don’t have a system of developing money yet.”
That’s what the high tunnel is all about. Along with Lee, board member James Newkirk is also busy in the garden.
“I would like to see it grow so we can leave a legacy for our children,” Newkirk said about the center. “It’s for the whole community and we would like to see them come out and support the center.”
Board Secretary Sandra Spearman supports the center because she believes it gives local residents a place to go.
“Anything we can do to help, we’re willing to do,” Spearman said.
The board members would like to see more support from Sampson County officials to help the seniors who are living on a fixed income.
“They can only do so much,” Spearman said regarding to fundraising efforts such as selling plates of food and making quilts.
The overall purpose of the site is to build support through family and the community. Lee said the program has been in the community for 40 years. He’s been president for 10 of those years. It offers nutritious meals and gives participants a chance to participate in activities such as exercising, bingo and Bible study. Officials are also trying to get computers for educational programs. Another goal is to mentor youths with resume writing and job searching.
Members meet Monday through Thursday and it’s open for anyone who would like to rent the building.
“If anybody wants to come out and participate in the program with senior citizens, they can do that,” Lee said. “It’s wide open to the entire community.”
For friends Gloria Alford and Janie Maynor, it’s like a home away from home.
“I really enjoy being a member here because we can get out and motivate ourselves,” Alford said.
Maynor feels that the site is an essential part of the community, since it’s an alternative to just sitting at home.
“It keeps our lives up and going because our bodies have somewhere to go and we have things to do,” Maynor said.
Although she enjoys the comfort that the center provides, she’d like to see up-to-date renovations.
“We would love to have family reunions and meetings here,” Maynor said. “There’s a lot of activities that we can have. It can be a place people would like to come back to. This building is really, really old and it needs a lot of attention.”
Alfred and Maynor will participate in a yard sale and chicken dinner fundraisers in October to help pay for gas to keep the building warm.
“If we don’t get enough gas to warm the building and it’s not a certain degree, we’re out of here,” Maynor said.
Pamela D. Johnson, a native of Tennessee, visits the center every year to spend time with family members. She emphasized how the rural Harrells site differs from the one in Nashville, which offers transportation and more amenities such as a walking track and swimming pool.
“It’s fully funded, but down here, it’s more of a loving environment,” Johnson said. “You get attached to everybody that you come into contact with and they’re like your aunts and mothers away from home. They just genuinely love you.”
For that reason, Johnson looks forward to escaping the Music City to visit Harrells for about six weeks. She enjoys using her sewing skills to help raise funds for the building.
William I. Boney Jr. looks forward to coming and has attended for about five years.
“You just enjoy being around people the same age and it’s like a schoolhouse,” Boney said. “It’s good to have somewhere to go. You work hard all your life and you pay taxes. This is one of the benefits you reap from it.”
The longtime member would like to see upgrades such as better heating system during the winter months.
“We get by, but it can be better,” he said.
Diane Cromartie, site manager, enjoys helping and working with the seniors and would like to have more volunteers visit with them.
“I feel very good about it,” Cromartie said. “I enjoy being able to come here and watch them fellowship. It’s something they can do during the day to brighten their day. There’s always a lot of laughter and fellowship.”
For more information about volunteering, gardening or purchasing crops, call 910-214-1079
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.