The automated locks on the thick-glass doors to the Pamlico County Jail buzz. Major Anthony Collins, the jail administrator, and I walk out to his car. A detained man yells after him in a deep, agitated voice.
“He isn’t a bad man, just made some bad choices,” Major Collins tells me. Lt. Eric Griffin, the patrol supervisor for the sheriff’s department, meets us in the parking lot. Collins quickly dips his wide shoulders into his unmarked black Dodge Charger. Griffin opens one of the rear doors and squeezes in, allowing me the front passenger seat. Heavy handcuffs hang from the gearshift; they clank together when Major Collins puts the car in reverse.
“Where are we going first?” Major Collins asks Lt. Griffin.
Today, the Monday before Thanksgiving, they are postponing their normal duties to deliver food to five families in Pamlico County who are in need.
“O-town,” Lt. Griffin replies, meaning the town of Oriental, about 15 minutes from the sheriff’s department and the county jail, which are in Bayboro. Griffin has a list of names and addresses--families that are having a hard time making ends meet, teachers at Pamlico Primary School told their principal, who notified Griffin. The men have 20 families to deliver food to. Today they are doing five.
The idea of delivering food before Thanksgiving came from Major Collins. This is the first year the sheriff’s office has delivered food over the holidays. Major Collins knows many more families need help, but he hopes doing this will lighten the burden for those who must choose between Thanksgiving dinner and paying bills. According to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, at least 15 percent of Pamlico County is food insecure, which means that their household is unable to afford enough food for them to live an active, healthy life.
A white van, normally used to transport detainees, follows us. Today it is transporting five 26-pound turkeys and five boxes containing canned corn, canned green beans, macaroni and cheese, cake mix and frosting, stuffing, corn bread, rice, cranberry sauce and gravy.
“Some people need help, but I guess out of pride, don’t want their names on the list,” Major Collins says. “But the holidays are tough when you are alone and money is tight.”
The day is gray and rainy. The fields on either side of Highway 55 are brown and messy with debris from the harvest.
Inside the car, the two men joke like brothers. Griffin is a pror-service Marine who spent time in Iraq. Neither are originally from the county, but they say they love it. The conversation turns to what they think the county needs.
“It needs more business,” says Major Collins. “A factory.”
“Yes,” agrees Lt. Griffin, looking out the window. “We have over 567 square miles of vast, open country—room to grow.”
Most of the crime they see is domestic violence, petty misdemeanor crimes, larceny, and the occasional drug use and selling of narcotics, says Major Collins. He thinks more jobs could alleviate some of these issues.
We pull into the gravel driveway of a small, tidy house. A middle-aged man who is repairing an engine on the front porch stands to meet us. Major Collins and Lt. Griffin are wearing casual uniforms: khaki pants and bulky black jackets that cover their firearms, which are holstered to their belts. The man at the house accepts the food and simply says, “Thank you.” Major Collins and Lt. Griffin climb back in the car.
The remaining four stops take us from one end of the county to the other, from Oriental to Grantsboro, in two hours. They deliver food to a blue ranch-style house with furniture in the yard, near Arapahoe. A blond teenager receives it. The next house they visit appears to be a group home; its residents welcome us to into their busy kitchen.
Next, the two men search for a trailer down a hidden dirt road in Grantsboro. Half of the trailers on the looped road look abandoned. One is missing its siding, displaying its bone-like internal structure. Further down the road, a woman stands on the porch in front of her trailer and glares at the unmarked police car and the van behind.
The handwritten numbers on the trailers are hard to read. Major Collins calls Stefanie Hill, an administrator at Pamlico Primary. He gets a phone number for the family they are looking for and calls; a woman answers and agrees to stand outside so he can find her.
Her rented trailer is weathered. Inside, it is spotless.
Major Collins and Lt. Griffin get the food from the van and then climb the steps to the front door. The woman, Tiffany Johnson, holds it open. The turkey is heavy, so they take it inside to the kitchen counter for her.
Johnson tells them her 6-year-old son is at school. Her other son, who just graduated high school, is at work. She is home because she recently lost her job at the liquor store. “I guess we will have Thanksgiving dinner,” she says. “As long as the turkey thaws in time.”
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