2008-12-25 / Features

Helping Others Despite A Bad Economy

By Monica Chen THE HERALD-SUN OF DURHAM

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - Jennings Brody and her staff at Parker and Otis cooked Thanksgiving meals for 46 people a few weeks ago.

They roasted chickens, mashed potatoes, made gravy and pumpkin bread at the restaurant/gourmet foods store on Duke Street, and then loaded it all into containers and gave it away.

Ask her how much it cost Parker and Otis though, and Brody replies: "You know, I have no idea."

The Herald-Sun of Durham reported that such is the easygoing manner with which Brody volunteers her time, energy and the resources of her young business that it has the directors of nonprofit organizations in Durham suitably impressed.

"There"s never anything we ask her to do for the Volunteer Center that she says no to. Space for groups, for meetings, food," Stephen Raburn, director of the center bubbled over in a voicemail message this week. "She volunteers at the Great Human Race that we have every spring. This year, she was there at the crack of dawn chopping up fruit for runners."

The Great Human Race is an annual 5K race to raise funds for fellow nonprofits in Durham.

Parker and Otis has also contributed to Genesis Home and Preservation Durham. For Caring House"s annual gala, when the nonprofit serving cancer patients and their families raises much of its funds, Parker and Otis donated a party for 50 to put up for auction.

The business is also sponsoring a family for Christmas through the Volunteer Center.

Brody said she wishes there was more time to personally volunteer. Parker and Otis, which opened in June 2007, is still in that critical make-or-break period and takes up most of her time these days.

Brody used to be a professional gourmet food buyer and said her dream was to open such a store. For the holiday season, Parker and Otis is decked out with seasonal goodies, cookies, festive candies.

Brody said she spent several years planning for, finding a space - now in the former Fowler"s spot near Brightleaf Square - and then getting the financing.

After months of serious search, Brody said she finally found a lender with Self-Help Credit Union. And in that process, Brody said, she learned even more about the importance of giving back.

"(Self-Help) took a chance on me, and I hope as our business progresses, that we"re able to give back to the community," she said. "I may not have much, but I feel we need to give back."

Part of Brody"s volunteerism also comes from her upbringing. Her parents volunteered, and she was involved with the Volunteer Center and Caring House before becoming a business owner, doing things like answering phones, sorting through cans of food and anything else that needed to be done.

"I can"t say enough nice things about what she"s done for us," said Anna Jones, the operations manager at Caring House. "She still has a lot of fans who think very highly of her."

This year, Brody said the economy has made things more difficult. She has noticed more organizations coming in the store and asking for help, and wondered whether other businesses might be holding back.

Parker and Otis does not do much advertising, and Brody said money that would"ve gone toward advertising is used for contributing to the community.

For the Thanksgiving dinner, she said, she had fun getting the staff involved. The act felt gratifying, she said. For next year"s Thanksgiving, Brody is already hatching a plan to get the customers involved as well, perhaps in a drive to collect sundries and home necessities.

"Downtown Durham has grown so much. I feel we could really give back," Brody said. "It seems like there are a lot of hungry people in Durham."

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