PINEVILLE – Important moments happen every day and often when we least expect them. One day, something just happens or you meet someone, and the entire trajectory of your life is hurled down a new path.
For Jane Shutt, it was just an ordinary day in March 2016. She was working as an administrative assistant at Pineville United Methodist Church, when a homeless man who called her “Mama Jane” walked in the door.
It was his birthday, he told her, and he wanted to spend it with family, so he decided to stop by.
“He thought of us as his family and it just broke my heart,” Shutt said. “I told my friends about it and they said, ‘We hear so many of these stories. We need to stop talking about it and do something.’ So that was kind of the seed.”
Four months later, Pineville Neighbor’s Place was formed, with Shutt serving as executive director and her friends, Mary Jo Patterson and Kathryn Jenkins, as treasurer and secretary. At first, the friends thought their organization would be just a homeless ministry, but the more they looked into it, the more they realized most of the people who needed help were only one big bill away from crisis.
According to Shutt, over 20 percent of the population of Pineville lives at or below the poverty line, but there are hardly any services outside of uptown Charlotte to help them. Pineville Neighbor’s Place aims to fill that void by specifically serving the residents of zip code 28134 and the families of Pineville and Sterling Elementary schools. Their mission, Shutt said, is to connect neighbors to available services, empower them to make life-sustaining changes and unify the churches of Pineville.
The organization has accomplished a lot since its inception two years ago, such as partnering with Crisis Assistance Ministries to complete referrals for rent and utility help. They also work with Beds for Kids – a nonprofit that delivers beds and bedding to children who are sleeping on the floor, or sharing a mattress with multiple family members.
“We needed to get kids off the floor because that’s just not where they should be sleeping,” Shutt said.
But the help doesn’t stop there.
Pineville Neighbor’s Place provides transportation assistance and free bus passes so clients can get to work or to other organizations for additional services. At Sterling Elementary School, the group sponsored Teacher Appreciation Week, provided volunteers for field day, supplied over 600 backpacks with school supplies for students, provided volunteers for Literacy Night and Career Day and connected volunteers to develop a school garden.
The most impressive effort, however, is the group’s annual Potato Drop with the Society of St. Andrew. Volunteers bag over 40,000 pounds of potatoes donated from growers and grocery stores to disperse to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in the area. The third-annual Potato Drop will be held Oct. 6.
“That’s an amazing one to see,” Shutt said. “People of all ages, even kids, come out to help bag the potatoes and it just makes you feel good to see everyone come together to help out their community.”
Shutt said Pineville Neighbor’s Place has helped dozens of people over the past two years. As of March 19, 30 people had received over $4,300 in assistance for 2018.
Their biggest success story, however, is about a man who had been homeless for 17 years and was living in an abandoned restaurant next to Pineville United Methodist Church. Shutt said they worked with Housing First, an organization that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, to get him into an apartment.
Shutt wants more success stories in the years to come and hopes a permanent location will allow her nonprofit to grow. Her dream is to one day have computers so clients can fill out job applications, offer financial literacy classes to teach people how to manage money and start a savings account and start a food pantry that’s open on nights and weekends.
“There’s still so much more we can do with Pineville Neighbor’s Place,” Shutt said. “I’ve always wanted to do mission work in another country, but when you have people in your own backyard who are homeless, or on the verge of being homeless, I don’t need to go anywhere else. I want to help my neighbors relieve their burden.”