Wayne County residents pitched in last week and filled all 500 seats at the Paramount Theatre with food, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies.

It was United Way of Wayne County's first ever Fill The Theatre campaign, and was held March 28 and 29.

People were encouraged to take whatever they could to the Paramount to fill the seats. It was a fundraiser to help the needy of Wayne County with food and other items, said Patty Graham, United Way community engagement director.

She said people brought things such as canned meats and vegetables, fruit cups, juice boxes, lots of cookies and snack cakes, candy, paper towels, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, personal hygiene items like toothbrush and toothpaste and shampoo, deodorant and hand creams. She said there were even organic and gluten free food items.

"We filled the middle section of the downstairs floor the first day," Graham said. "The second day, we filled the side aisles before lunch and in the afternoon, we filled the balcony. We took a group photo at 4:30 p.m. the second day and the theater was completely full and people were still dropping off items."

One really big donation came from SPX Flow Technologies, she said.

"As soon as they found out about the event, they began having contests at the plant," Graham said. "The first day, they filled three or four rows. Then they came back the second day and filled half of one of the sides."

Donations even came from children.

"Will Fickling from Wayne Country Day School had done a food campaign there and encouraged everyone to contribute," Graham said. "Our youngest donor was 5-year-old Laura, wanted to feed children who didn't have any food. She dragged her bag into the theater. She was so cute.

"And Ty from Wayne Preparatory Academy, who is 12, brought in food and then stayed for several hours helping up fill the theater. His mom called me and asked if he could help us."

Donors were encouraged to reserve a seat to fill and several local groups did just that, including the city, Sunrise Kiwanis, Delta Sigma Theta, Literacy Connections, Southern Bank, several Girl Scout troops and several others.

Items donated were distributed to the Salvation Army, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Make a Difference Food Pantry, student pantries at Wayne Community College and the University of Mount Olive and the domestic violence shelter.

Linda Holden-Cox, executive director of Wayne Uplift Resource Association, which operates the Wayne Uplift Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program for the county, said the organization received an entire truck bed filled with items like canned goods, nonperishable foods, paper products, toiletries and cleaning supplies.

"It's going to our women's shelter for the women and their dependent children," she said. "We also serve families who don't need our shelter services and when that's the case and they need some of those goods, we give them some of the small supply of items at our building.

"And sometimes, victims come in to the office who are not going to our shelter, but are in need of some of these items and we give them some, too. They may be going elsewhere or be heading out of town or sometimes going to set up safe housing somewhere else and need some supplies."

Holden-Cox said the items donated during Fill The Theatre mean a great deal to the families the organization serves. The resources are already on hand and all the group needs to do is distribute them. And it helps the staff to be able to focus on other support services for the families it serves to help them cope with their personal crisis.

"The event was a wonderful and unique idea, something different here in Wayne County," she said.

"I think the community really embraced it, and we greatly appreciate the community being supportive of not just our agency, but other agencies in Wayne County."

The Salvation Army was another recipient of the donations.

"We got three huge bins of items, about 500 cans of food," said Capt. Sherrie Stokes.

"With summertime coming up, a lot of kids in our area are going to be having hunger pains due to no food in the household," she said. "And they have no choice if there's food in the house or not. A lot of moms actually have to quit work during the summer because their kids are out of school. And they come to us needing food."

The food will also be used in the homeless men's shelter, who receive a full breakfast and supper each day.

The Salvation Army also received hygiene kits for its homeless ministry and others who don't have access to those kinds of items.

"This being the first year of Fill The Theatre, to be honest, we weren't really sure how it would go, but were hoping we would fill the theater," Graham said. "We really felt like the community would come in and do their part. Every bag counted."

Fill The Theatre will become an annual event. The dates have already been set for next year, March 20 and 21 at the Paramount.