It was 2009, and local food banks and pantries were struggling to have enough food to feed the community. It was during this time that two friends from a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Shelby had an idea.
Doug Sharp and Bill Horn knew that potatoes were very nourishing and could be grown relatively easily in the Cleveland County soil. They, along with some of their friends, hatched a plan to grow potatoes to distribute to local charities. They called their organization the Cleveland County Potato Project (CCPP). "This has all been strictly faith-based from the very beginning," says Sharp. "We always felt that this work was divinely inspired."
They started their work with three tenets, according to Sharp:
1. They would grow potatoes and give them all away.
2. They would not purchase anything. Land, tractors, plows, potato harvesters - all would be borrowed.
3. They would ask for donations to finance their work - at first mainly from Baptist organizations under the direction of the late Charles Reed (director of missions for the then-Kings Mountain Baptist Association).
And it was all very successful. Over the past 10-plus years, the CCPP has given away more than one million pounds of potatoes.
"We have a great marketing plan," says Sharp. "We give it all away. That has worked out very well for us."
The Salvation Army, the Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association, the Kings Mountain Crisis Ministry and many other local organizations have benefitted each year from CCPP donations of both Irish and sweet potatoes.
Volunteers have come from across the community - churches, civic organizations, and school groups have all participated.
The potatoes were always grown and distributed locally until last year when Sharp read an article about Washington State - one of the largest producers of potatoes in the United States - having an overwhelming surplus of potatoes.
The catch was that they had to find a way to get the truckload of potatoes from Washington State to North Carolina.
"We quickly started fundraising, and - thanks to local churches - we soon we had the $5,000 needed to get those potatoes here," says Sharp. "They were loaded on a Wednesday, and the truck pulled into Shelby the following Monday. We had 40,000 pounds of potatoes to give away!"Like most other organizations, CCPP has struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Travis Mangum, who heads up our white potato production, had gotten a lot of Civitans - both senior and junior Civitans - involved as volunteers," says Sharp. "We would often have groups of 150-175 high school kids out there working in the potato fields."
But Covid-19 changed that. Schools were closed, and volunteers of all ages were worried about the virus, so they stayed away.A
"So, for the last year, we have had to hire workers to do the field work," says Sharp. "And we don't really have enough work to give someone a steady job, so it has been rather piecemeal."
But despite this hardship, the organization still managed to distribute close to 125,000 pounds of potatoes last year.
Sharp says that the beauty of CCPP is that everyone can help in some way.
"There are volunteer opportunities from cutting potatoes to planting, to weeding, to harvesting," he says. "And for those that can't help physically, we welcome donations."
Check donations can be sent to: Cleveland County Potato Project, 107 Quail Hollow Dr., Kings Mountain, NC 28086.
As for Sharp, he says he will keep on with his work at CCPP as long as he is able.
"I have always believed that if one child or one older person or if any person at all in this county goes to bed hungry, it is my fault, if I could have done something to have prevented it," he says.
For more information about the CCPP, visit the organization's website at www. ccpotatoproject.com or find them on Facebook by searching