Sidney Morgan’s sparkling eyes give a kind accompanying welcome to his broad gentle smile as he welcomes visitors to “The Shoppe.” The Shoppe, an alternate moniker for Morgan Support Services, is a nonprofit organization located near downtown Greensboro that provides enrichment activities and job and life skills training for adults with developmental disabilities. Founded in 2007 by Sidney’s son, The Shoppe has grown and demonstrated success in Greensboro and has recently opened a second facility in Winston-Salem.
While Sidney’s full time job is coordinating operations for The Shoppe, he has been part of the Triad Health Project (THP) family since 2011, when he began volunteering by picking up cases of liquid nutritional supplements (LNS) from the Cone Health Pharmacy and delivering them to THP’s food pantry. From the very beginning, he was known to the THP staff as, “Mr. Morgan” and he quickly became a welcome presence at the THP Greensboro office. Many of the HIV positive clients that THP works with suffer from the side effect of inhibited digestion and absorption of conventional food. LNS, which is quite costly at approximately $1.13 per can (one can equaling a meal), provides a nutrient dense formulation for them to meet basic caloric requirements. THP is the only service organization in the area that provides LNS as part of its nutrition support services.
Sidney has a personal connection with HIV, having experienced the loss of a dear friend many years ago from AIDS. Sidney says that he volunteers with THP in memory of his friend, but also as a way of helping as many people as he can that are struggling with the disease. A more recent experience brought the HIV struggle once again into stark relief for Sidney. He shares that about two years ago an encounter brought him face to face with the impact that HIV has today, particularly on marginalized people. Sidney’s church, New Light Missionary Baptist Church, had staged a cookout for clients of the Shoppe as part of a weekend celebration. Afterwards, leftovers, including plenty of fish and chicken bones and scraps were thrown in the agency’s dumpster. The following Monday morning, Sidney went out to the dumpster to throw away other materials. When he opened the gate to the dumpster, to his surprise, there was a man sitting inside feasting on the remains of the cookout. Sidney laughs quietly as he recalls that the man’s mouth was covered with the grease from the leftover fish and chicken, but that he gave a large smile as a greeting. The man’s enjoyment was quickly followed by anxiousness about being found in the dumpster and he begged Sidney not to call the police. Sidney assured the man that he would not call the police but asked him to be careful not to ever be in the dumpster on a Wednesday night as that was when the waste disposal services emptied the dumpster and he could be injured. The man promised that he would adhere to this advice and proceeded to remark on how delicious the leftovers were and how his dumpster finds were often what kept him from starving.
Shortly after, Sidney noticed that the man from the dumpster and a companion set up camp under a nearby bridge. The man stopped by one day to let Sidney know that he would keep an eye on The Shoppe during off hours and would let Sidney know if he spied any suspicious activity. He also shared that he was HIV positive. Over the coming weeks, Sidney would have occasional conversations with his new friend. Then one day Sidney happened to glance out the window toward the underpass area where the man had encamped. The man and his companion were away from the area and city workers were scooping up their belongings and throwing them away. Sidney raced up to the area and asked, “Why – why would you throw away the belongings of these men who have done nothing to hurt others?” The answer he got: The city was proceeding with plans for the downtown greenway and needed to clear the area. After this, Sidney didn’t see the homeless man again, always wondering what had become of him, whether he had been able to access care for HIV and find shelter and other resources to meet his basic human needs. Sidney recalls with tears in his eyes that, in the face of the city’s harsh treatment of these men, he redoubled his commitment to helping anyone he could that was living with HIV and needed support.
Sidney has continued his volunteer LNS delivery work with THP since that time. He finds the pickup and delivery trips a perfect project for clients of the Shoppe, a chance for them to develop life skills that they can utilize in other situations. Early on the first Monday of each month, he pulls his shiny blue pickup truck up to the docks at Cone Health, and, with his helpers from the Shoppe, loads in 70-90 cases of LNS and transports it to the THP Greensboro office. Depending on how big his crew of helpers is that day, the delivery work takes a little more or less than an hour. Sidney remarks that it’s always gratifying to converse with the THP staff members who come out to help unload the truck, and that he loves how they always have a smile and a good word for him and his team no matter how busy they are with day-to-day operations. Sidney says he enjoys being of service to the community, as evidenced by the many other ways he volunteers in the area, including officiating at high school football games and being active with his church’s outreach ministries.
What would Sidney tell someone who is thinking about volunteering with THP? He feels that many people might not understand all that THP does. He encourages people to tour THP and learn firsthand about the organization’s support services for people living with HIV, the free education they offer and the testing services they provide to help prevent new HIV infections. Sidney pauses and stresses the importance of confidentiality when visiting THP, sharing that, “Plenty of times I’ve seen someone I know there, but it’s never mentioned when we meet outside of THP.” Sidney shakes his head sadly as he acknowledges that, with the continuing stigma around HIV, it’s important for these acquaintances to feel secure in knowing that they can access services without fear of disclosure around their health needs and status. Asked how someone would describe him, Sidney says, “I’m just a straightforward person. I speak my mind. If you and I can’t agree, we agree to disagree. I hope people find me to be loving and caring about all people, not judgmental.”
Want to learn more about how you can make a difference as a THP volunteer? Visit our online volunteer page or call 336-275-1654.
by Paula Barger, Director of Development