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Ministries group mines waste

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Frustrated with what he sees as waste in the face of plenty, Thomas D. Sharts aims to recover and recycle unused resources for people who need them.

A teacher and former social worker, Sharts four years ago formed Friendship Helping Ministries to serve people lacking basic necessities.

His group scouts for edible food and usable goods that companies discard, as well as wealth and know-how that individuals can be reluctant to share, Sharts says.

“The whole reality of American culture is waste, waste, waste, waste,” he says. “The vision is to become a good steward of resources.”

Sharts, who runs the charity as a volunteer while teaching part-time at Central Piedmont Community College and two other schools, raises about $40,000 a year through grants, cash contributions and the sale of donated appliances and other products.

He uses that money to buy food for about 500 individuals and families, build wheelchair ramps for half-a-dozen homes that need them, make home repairs and deliver other services for people facing tough times.

Sharts, who also teaches at Carolinas School of Health Sciences and gives online courses for Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, S.C., recruits students to tutor a dozen youngsters in English and math.

In June, he plans to open a retail store to sell products donated or sold at deep discounts by local businesses and merchants with which he is developing relationships.

Through the store and ads run in space donated by local publications, Sharts aims to generate $25,000 to $30,000 a year selling used computers, scratched or dented refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers.

Sharts recruits students to work as volunteer tutors, as well as adults affiliated with church groups that support his charity.

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, for example, the missionary arm of the Nazarene Church in Kansas City, Mo., has contributed $10,000.

His group received another $10,000 last fall from the Carolina Panthers and the National Football League, which recognized it with a Community Quarterback Award for community service leadership.

The group also is a member of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, which provides food at reduced prices to nonprofits that feed hungry people.

“In the evolution of Friendship Ministries, this is stage one,” says Sharts. “These are all outreach programs, going out in the community and meeting dire needs that don’t need a lot of manpower.”

But Sharts, who moved to Charlotte in 1994 and worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Department of Social Services after training to be a social worker and social-studies teacher in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., aims to expand.

“The plan,” he says, “is to communicate to people in the Charlotte metro community how imperative it is to get out of the little world you’re in and basically confront the social problems of urban living, which predominantly relate to illiteracy, limited vocational skill development, substance abuse and criminal behaviors.”

Friendship Ministries, at 3925-A Morris Field Drive, can be reached at 704-697-0072.

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