CORA Executive Director Works to End Hunger in Chatham County

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One in 10 Chatham residents face food insecurity – Melissa Driver Beard looks to change that by expanding the reach of the CORA food pantry

Melissa Driver Beard poses smiling in front of the large mural of colorful produce at CORA

By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Melissa Driver Beard says the goal of every nonprofit is to put themselves out of business. “I mean, that’s the long-term, pie-in-the-sky goal,” says the executive director of the Chatham Outreach Alliance, better known as CORA food pantry. “The job is important because feeding people is important. This position was and still is interesting to me because it’s the first time in a 29-year career that I’ve worked to address an issue I think could potentially be solved in my lifetime. If not my lifetime, perhaps my son’s.”

Armed with experience gained at American Cancer Society, Prevent Blindness North Carolina and American Heart Association, Melissa began her Pittsboro-based role in July 2018 and steered the organization through the pandemic. Under her leadership, CORA doubled its annual budget, as well as increased staff and its physical space to accommodate more storage, offices and community rooms. Additionally, CORA expanded its services by opening a satellite pantry and offering mobile markets in Siler City, providing delivery to older adults and food packs for children facing hunger during the school year.

In 2022, CORA distributed 1.1 million meals countywide. “So many people [who] never ever thought they would need to come to a food pantry, have suddenly had to come to a food pantry for the first time,” she says. “We’ve had more first-timers in the past three years than ever before in an average year.”

Melissa and Elizabeth stand on either side of a steel table while packing bags of food at CORA
Melissa packs bags with Elizabeth Beaudrias inside the new pantry space on Camp Drive.

Melissa, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and international studies from UNC and a master’s degree in community health administration from East Carolina University, says that in Chatham, about 10 percent of residents face food insecurity. She explains that this is not knowing when or from where their next meal is going to come. “So, that boils down to at least about 8,000 people,” she says. “The need is really huge; it’s bigger than people realize. There are a lot of people out there who either don’t know about us or won’t come to us because of pride issues, stigma issues, things like that.”

She says the county’s anticipated growth will bring new challenges in addressing more demand to meet basic human needs. “Food is going to be top of mind because you feel hunger pretty quickly. I’m glad I’m in a county where I can say, here are all the other places you can go,” she says. “Off the top of my head, I know of at least seven or eight places where people can go and get food if they need it. Now, it’s not every day or even every week. But there are two decent-sized food pantries. There are church-based food pantries that serve once a week [or] once every other week. There’s the Chatham Community Church, lunch at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and Chatham Chuckwagon. The Quiltmaker Cafe, [a pay-what-you-can restaurant,] was trying to open up, so [hunger] has gotten a heavy focus in Chatham County, and I’m happy about that.”

In the past, her work for international nonprofits, such as Sustainable Health Enterprises, has taken her to Rwanda, Tanzania, Honduras, Nicaragua and Cambodia. Her love for travel extends to her 22-year-old son, Walker Beard, a senior at Appalachian State University; the mother and son have been to 28 countries together. No matter where she goes, Melissa is reminded of the needs of people in her own community.

“Hunger is something that everyone understands, even if they haven’t experienced it,” Melissa says. “And, I think everybody shares the same thought process that in this country of all countries, and in this age of all ages, nobody should go hungry.”


  • 1,100,000 meals distributed
  • 9,600 people served
  • 900 new families served
  • 268 volunteers worked 9,242 volunteer hours
  • 755,721 pounds of food donated
  • 316,026 pounds of fresh produce served
  • 1,323,152 pounds of food provided

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Anna-Rhesa Versola

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