Passion for the pantry

Diane Urtel says her father Charlie Bunn always cleaned his plate at dinner.

Bunn learned to be on time for meals while growing up on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina, Urtel said, because there might not have been any food left if he was late.

“That could have been part of why he had the passion of feeding the hungry,” Urtel said of her father. “You were never late for a meal on the farm.”

Among loaves of bread, bags full of crackers and canned goods, friends of Charlie Bunn gathered Sunday at Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry (ECCCM) in Newton to remember his work to help people who needed food for their plates.

Bunn died suddenly in June, but his memory now lives on through the ECCCM food pantry that bears his name.

Fellow volunteers and members of ECCCM’s board recalled Bunn’s hard work, his can-do attitude and his ability to crack jokes to keep everyone lighthearted during tough times and long days.

The Rev. Tony Bunton, former ECCCM executive director, said women from First United Methodist Church in Conover traveled to ECCCM in 1998 to work, and Bunn was with them.

“His heart was in it from that moment on,” Bunton said. “He was a volunteer. Volunteers are the lifelines of a nonprofit. He gave thousands and thousands of hours of service. His smile was never brighter than when he had all of his family around him working in the food pantry or at one of the food drives.”

Members of Bunn’s family attended the ceremony Sunday. Urtel shared things she learned from her father, including love and patience, competitiveness, commitment and a good work ethic, respect for everyone, humor and lightheartedness, the importance of family and volunteerism.

“Volunteering has always been a way of life,” she said. “For nine years, my family had the pleasure of three generations volunteering at ECCCM.”

In 2010, ECCCM’s food pantry provided emergency food to 13,831 households. The organization has already provided food to more than 11,000 households this year.

Many of the nearly 75 people at Sunday’s ceremony worked alongside Bunn as volunteers. Bunn would not have wanted their recognition for his volunteer efforts, said Urtel and the Rev. Robert Silber, ECCCM’s current executive director.

Before the end of the ceremony, Silber challenged everyone in attendance to take a grocery bag from a stack on a table.

“Fill it overflowing with food, and return it to the pantry,” Silber said. “Charlie would approve of that.”