A Good Neighbor

07 Jun 2020

Kate Petsolt enjoys getting it done

By Lesley Berkshire Bradley  »  Photos by Mollie Tobias

Some people see a problem and immediately think of how hard it will be to solve. Other people see a problem and jump in to fix it. Kate Petsolt is the latter. She jumps in with both feet to get it done.

Petsolt is well known locally for creating the amazingly popular Reindeer Fun Run in 2007 and growing it from 400 runners to over 2500 runners, establishing itself as the county’s largest race, as well as generating over $300,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of the Sandhills. To pull this off, Petsolt rallies hundreds of volunteers, from Girl Scouts to municipalities to local police and businesses, and even a Santa Claus.

The COVID-19 crisis created an urgent need to feed hundreds of families and children in our community. Petsolt said she would get it done. And she has.

In the first six weeks since the quarantine, the newly minted team named Neighbors Feeding Neighbors has generated $130,000 in monetary and in-kind donations, harnessed the meal-prep power of 12 local restaurants and 100 volunteers to serve over 35,000 prepared meals, ramping up to an astounding 6,000 meals per week.

What superpowers enable her to tackle large, complex projects and get them done in rapid time with record-breaking results?

One of Petsolt’s friends says that she has the ability to get people to say “Yes”. Another friend says that it is her infectious passion for the community.

Fallon Brewington, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Sandhills, who works with Petsolt on the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors project and the Reindeer Fun Run, says “Kate is a person who says she’s going to do something, and then worries about the details…Basically, if Kate says she is going to do something, you can bet she will.”

Petsolt talks and moves fast. Every moment is utilized. Every conversation is an opportunity.

But she didn’t just move ahead without a plan to feed hundreds of people. Her first conversation was with the local Golden Corral restaurant. She had $1000 to spend and asked if they could make meals for $1 each. The answer…“Yes, they could”.  Simultaneously, Brewington worked on getting the distribution in place.

And, only two days after the team kick-off meeting, the first 1000 meals were prepared and distributed. They had a proof of concept. Next, Petsolt reached out to other restaurants in the area and the program was off and running.

“I like to dig in and get it done.”

She is known to call everybody and anybody. Clearly “The Ask”, which frightens most people, energizes this community organizer.

And, “if she calls, you know she really needs your help and that she will get it done”, says Reindeer Fun Run teammate Marie Lewis.

When Petsolt moved to Southern Pines in the mid-1990’s, she wasn’t looking to become the local go-to problem-solver. She and her husband, Dave, moved to be closer to family that had already relocated here from Minnesota. Kate opened a stationery store and did event planning while Dave worked for a family marketing company. The Sandhills was very much a retirement and golf community back then, and the area was quiet and slow.

Fast-forward to 2006, the couple decided to create the Reindeer Fun Run, after having seen the excitement of the Charleston, S.C., version.

“We said, this needs to happen in our community,” states Petsolt. In less than a year, 400 people ran their first December fun run in Southern Pines.

In 2013, Kate and Dave also helped get Southern Pines’ First Friday concert events up and running. From setting up tables, to bartending to cleaning up afterwards, Petsolt was in the midst of it all on the small hill by the historic Sunrise Theater. First Fridays are now THE place to go on summer Friday evenings and the bands play in a new, brick outdoor stage.

“I like to be a worker bee. I am happiest in the trenches,” says Petsolt.

The willingness of all the volunteers to work in the trenches is what has made the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors a success. The phone work, the negotiating, the “asks”, the cooking and packaging, are all done while social distancing.

Very rarely does the word “I” come out of Kate’s mouth. She leads with the names of the people and organizations that have been helping her make 1200 meals a day….Steve at Golden Corral, Chef Ian and Bill at Sly Fox, Chef Fiona at Sandhills Community College Culinary Program, Food Lion, Meat and Greek, the tortilla sales rep, Ashley from Ashten’s restaurant, her daughter Lilly, Kirk Adkins, her new friend and cheerleader... the list of names is enormous.

“This is a community made for making connections,” Petsolt says.

Groups began fundraising for Neighbors Feeding Neighbors. One community resident created and sold sidewalk Luminaria votives to raise $15,700 for the project. Penick Village, a local retirement community created their own fundraiser, The Stay Away 5K, and raised $5,700.

Local banks, Habitat for Humanity, the Pinehurst Community Foundation, the Robert Dedman Foundation, the Moore County Community Foundation, several Rotary Clubs and other groups have contributed generous sums to Neighbors Feeding Neighbors. To accept the generous donations, Neighbors Feeding Neighbors is part of Team Green, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit charity, along with the Reindeer Fun Run.

“This is a community of philanthropic people who want to help. Even with COVID-19, they are finding ways to help our community,” adds Petsolt. “There are so many people in our area who are like me and will jump in to get things done.”

Neighbors Feeding Neighbors will continue at its current pace through June 5th before transitioning its mission back to non-profits reopening and getting up to speed as the phases of North Carolina’s reopening occur.

What will Petsolt be doing once the quarantine is lifted and life returns to a more ‘normal’ state? She is looking forward to returning to the highlight of her more typical weeks, volunteering as a ‘Cornerman’ for the local Rock Steady Boxing program supporting individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. And getting ready for the 13th Annual Reindeer Fun Run!

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