Yadkin Christian Ministries Executive Director Richard Eskew will be retiring next month after serving as the organization’s leader for 15 years. The 77-year-old Navy veteran and former pastor was one of the leaders who helped to establish the organization in the early 1980s.
“I don’t know another soul who has the compassion he does,” said Carol Roberts, chairperson of the YCM board and longtime volunteer with the group. “He has such passion for poor people, for needy people. He doesn’t judge people on how they look or what they might be into.”
Roberts said when she first began volunteering with the organization when it began, she came to Eskew and said she had a hard time understanding how people could be in a position to not be able to provide food for their families.
“He said to me, ‘Well, Carol, we have to look at them through the eyes of Jesus,’” Roberts said. “I will never forget that. And he’s right. I’ve learned that. I’m not perfect at it yet, but I look at them the way that Jesus Christ would and the scripture tell us that this is part of being a Christian is looking after people.”
Eskew came to Yadkin County in 1971 and served for 22 years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Yadkinville. He said during that time they began to get more and more requests for assistance from needy families in the area and began by establishing a small food closet. The area ministerial association also had its hand in several outreach programs with a chaplain based at the hospital and one at the jail.
In 1982, the association decided to established an organization for the purpose of distributing food to those in need.
“This was a way of bringing it all together,” Eskew said. “That way we could do a better job of taking care of people’s needs.”
The organization worked with the Salvation Army, Social Services and Tri-County Christian Ministries to help provide and track the assistance being provided to those in need within the community.
In 1985, Yadkin Christian Ministries began operating out of its location at 121 Elm St. in Yadkinville and in 2000, they opened a satellite location in East Bend in the American Legion building.
Eskew said the first year of operation Yadkin Christian Ministries had a budget of less than 10,000. Their budget for this year is more than $284,000. He said they serve an average of 125 families per week with both food and funds to pay for electricity.
The organization is funded by donations from area churches and individuals. Churches from various denominations support YCM both financially and with volunteers. Roberts said it was a new concept for the area when it first began to have an interdenominational service group.
“Our churches in this county they aren’t that much different,” Eskew said. “The people are the same, we just go to the different churches cause we’ve always gone there.”
Eskew said the vision of area pastors and support from church members is what makes the group so special. He said it is more than just providing for those in need, but a way to teach church members the true meaning of their faith.
“Regardless of the food or other assistance that we give that is necessary and good, it is to try to help the Christian community understand the virtue of compassion,” he said. “We’re very compassionate when it comes to mowing the graveyard or buying something for the church, but oftentimes we do not see the mission of the church as on the outside, helping people in the name of Christ.
“This is a witness,” he said. “How are you going to tell somebody about the Christian life unless you first let them know that you care about their physical well being? And certainly food is pretty basic. I’ve told people over and over we could take care of hunger in Yadkin County by doing one simple thing, ask the church people to bring one item of food every Sunday, one, a can of soup, a can of pork and beans, just one item, is that too hard? Would it hurt anybody? No, but it would provide all we need to help keep the children fed.”
Eskew said through the years he has been amazed at how when times seemed the darkest, a needed donation would come in at the last moment to keep the organization going.
“We don’t cry about what we don’t have, we just trust that the Lord will provide and every time we have seen the need supplied,” he said. “I know that’s blind faith, but I don’t have to worry ‘cause I know if we are doing the right thing God will take care of the need.”
The many volunteers who have served Yadkin Christian Ministries through the years is another special thing Eskew said he will always carry with him.
“One of the greatest things for me is the people I work with. The association is some of the best people you’ll ever meet that have a spirit of compassion,” he said.
It is obvious from the way he speaks of YCM it will be hard for Eskew to move on and hand the reins over. Though he said he is excited to see the torch passed on to someone of a younger generation with fresh ideas and more experience with new technology like social media. He joked it would be “passing the iPad” rather than a torch.
Roberts practically had tears in her eyes and she spoke of Eskew’s retirement as the two have worked together for so many years. She said there would never be another Richard Eskew though she too was excited about the prospect of new ideas from a new director.
A job description for the position will be posted soon on the Yadkin Christian Ministries website www.y-c-m.org and Roberts said they are excited to begin interviewing candidates for the position.
As for Eskew, he will soon be catching up on family time and spending a good bit of time salt water fishing. He will reside for part of the year in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he said he plans to do plenty of fishing and shrimping. He already has a friend in the area, however, who has recruited him to volunteer weekly at the food bank there.
For more information on Yadkin Christian Ministries and the services they provide, visit www.y-c-m.org or call 336-677-3080 or 336-699-4544 for the East Bend office.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.