The rooms inside the administrative building of the Sampson Correctional facility smelled like a bakery Friday, as dozens upon dozens of cakes were stacked on tables in two different offices — so many assorted and colorful confections they could not be contained to just one room.
The cakes were baked, purchased and donated by the community as part of an annual outreach of the Community Resource Council (CRC) of Clinton, whose volunteers again teamed up with Department of Public Safety employees at Sampson Correctional to offer a special gift to a populous many either forget about or shun altogether.
As CRC chairman Chick Gancer delivered one of the last carloads of cakes just before noon Friday, DPS employees including assistant superintendent Donna Williamson, administrative officer Amanda Carpenter, office assistants Camille Wilson and Susan Bass and personnel assistant Sherry Blackburn sorted through the goods and began to make preparations for Christmas dinner.
“A lot of different churches and organizations donate,” said Gancer, who said the inmates are appreciative. “They look forward to this all year.”
He noted that students in Donna Owens’ Clinton High School Family & Consumer Sciences class joined more than a dozen churches in Sampson and Bladen counties, as well as various civic groups and others in the community in donating this year. There were roughly 250 cakes stacked up to feed the 463 inmates at the prison, who all come out for the Christmas dinner, which also includes fried chicken and sweet potatoes to go along with the regular menu the prison is required to offer.
The food was donated by CRC volunteers from proceeds given by local churches throughout the year.
“They look forward to this every year,” Williamson concurred of the prisoners. She has been at the Sampson prison for 27 years and the outreach has only gotten bigger. “I’ve watched it grow over the years.”
Gancer agreed, noting the number of cakes has doubled over the total several years ago.
He said a similar outreach is believed to date back to when Almond Faison was the CRC president in the late 1980s. It continued on in the 90s and Gancer has helped spearhead the event with others over the past 15 or so years. The cakes are quite literally the icing topping off a dinner event that has been extremely well-received by those inside Sampson Correctional.
Williamson said more inmates eat and fellowship together as part of the event than on any other day of the year.
“We have more eat that day than any other day. Where some usually eat at the canteen, they’ll all show up for this,” Williamson stated. “Everybody comes together for this. And those who do come out will tell (Gancer) how much they appreciate it.”
Gancer is a familiar face around the prison, going out of his way to coordinate events like the Christmas dinner and the Toastmasters program, through which volunteers help inmates with public speaking — an asset when addressing parole boards and obtaining employment past incarceration.
He often walks or sits with inmates on the yard, sharing a couple encouraging words or giving out Bibles. Volunteers also coordinate an ice cream social each summer.
The goal, as with the Christmas feast and cakes, is to show someone cares. Regardless of the circumstances through which the inmates were placed behind bars, Christmas can be a lonely time and it is important to show there is caring in the world, especially during the holiday season, Gancer noted.
“I just like to see these guys have a wonderful time,” said Gancer, who is quick to express his gratitude to the community and other volunteers who make everything possible. “Many times these guys are forgotten, and they don’t have any kind of community or family ties other than something like this. They might ask themselves ‘who cares?’ This shows that somebody does care. This community cares.”
He said the CRC’s 11-member board, the community and a strong and supportive group of churches “come through with any request we have.” The end result, whether it is through the Christmas dinner, some ice cream or time taken to teach proper speech, is a Good Samaritan showing care and love for another of God’s children.
On many of the documents that CRC uses to distribute information is a quote from Matthew 25.
It reads in part, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…”
Gancer said a simple show of support by the community each year can help brighten a day or maybe even be the catalyst for a life being changed.
“People do care,” he said, “and that’s what we tell them.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.