The Pantry co-founder Sam Wornom, who passed away in January. Source: East Carolina University

By Richard Sullins |

A group of individuals in Sanford has been working to raise money toward the building of a homeless shelter in honor of local businessman Sam Wornom, who passed away in January. The group has raised $1.1 million to date and that amount could continue to grow.

Wornom is widely known for being a co-founder of The Pantry, as well as for several other business ventures including being involved as an original investor in Spring Lane Cinemas in 2004, serving as CEO of Macks Stores in the 1970s and early 80s, co-founding Imperial Freezer Services, and more. He was also well known for his volunteerism and philanthropy, including with the local and national Boys and Girls Clubs and East Carolina University.

The gifts in Wornom’s name would help Outreach Mission Inc. qualify for additional gifts and grants to raise construction funds as well as operational costs. The group is still about $630,000 short of reaching its goal and last Tuesday, the Sanford City Council voted to donate half of the remainder to the cause and asked the county to consider providing the other half. State law prohibits counties from contributing to nonprofit organizations for the construction of facilities, but Lee County Manager Dr. John Crumpton indicated on Monday that county attorneys are working on a way to make it happen.

Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr. spoke Monday in favor of matching the city’s contribution, but Republican Commissioners Kirk Smith and Arianna Lavallee opposed the measure, saying it set a precedent for future situations that might be similar. The proposal to appropriate up to $315,000 to Outreach Mission was ultimately approved, once it has received grant funding to build a new homeless shelter and staff has determined the appropriate legal method to provide the funding. Documents facilitating the transfer of funds will be brought back to the Lee County Board of Commissioners for final approval.

Also, and with some hesitation, the board of commissioners also agreed to sign a letter of support for a state proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a grant that would plan stations along the proposed S-line rail system that would run from Norlina to Sanford and provide high-speed passenger and freight service. In 2019, Lee County Commissioners adopted a resolution of support for the project’s concept.