Faces of poverty: Food bank has new clientele

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2011

Editor’s note: Undergraduate journalism majors at UNC-Chapel Hill recently explored the human dimensions of poverty, unemployment and economic distress in North Carolina. This is part of a series  of stories they wrote.

By Catey Contes
“What we have been seeing in the past five years or so is that the face of hunger is not just the homeless person on the street but can be the well- dressed person that you know,” said Christy Simmons, the manager of public relations at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.
In the 34 counties served by the Food Bank, 545,000 individuals are considered at risk of hunger — an increase of 60,000 people since last year — said Simmons.
The 30-year-old Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina has more than 800 partner agencies, including soup kitchens, food pantries, and shelters.
The Food Bank distributed more than 4.1 million pounds of food and other supplies during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Earline Middleton, the Food Bank’s vice president of agency services, spoke at a food insecurity workshop at the Come to the Table conference in Winston-Salem in February.
“Food banking used to distribute anything they got,” she said. “However, as a food bank, our goal is to advocate and to try to get more nutritious food. North Carolina is rich in produce but yet we have very high incidences of chronic diseases because of poor health. One of the things that we’ve done is distribute more produce — 10 million pounds of produce last year.”
The Food Bank has joined with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina to develop the Kids Cafe´ Program, which brings together community organizations such as YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs to educate youngsters about nutrition and provide healthy meals. About 1,300 children are being served each week.
The Food Bank also helps meet nutritional needs of children during weekends and breaks from school through the Bayer CropScience BackPack program. Children are given a backpack filled with non-perishable food items on Friday afternoons to provide them with nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals.
People talk about obesity, said Middleton. “It’s about not eating empty calories. We also try to include nutrition education in our programming. Our Kids Cafe´ offers not just food, but opportunities for physical activity. We try to educate on how to prepare the food. It’s our culture to solicit healthier food, and to educate.”
Transportation is a major issue that restricts people from accessing food pantry services. Rural communities often lack public transportation. The Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry program includes two 22-foot refrigerated trucks that distribute food to 42 sites in 11 counties in the state.
Currently, about 54 percent of food donations come from individuals. If you’d like to donate, the most needed items include canned meats and fruits, feminine products and other hygiene products, paper products, breakfast bars, juice boxes, peanut butter, and cleaning supplies. You can donate to branch locations in Raleigh, Durham, Greenville, New Bern, Sandhill and Wilmington.
Jen Jones, the agency outreach coordinator of the Second Harvest Food Bank in northwest North Carolina, also spoke at the Come to the Table conference.
Jones said that 29 percent of the members of households served by food banks are children younger than 18 years old, citing the Hunger in America 2010 study. “One in four North Carolina children under the age of five don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” she said.
Catey Contes is a senior from Charlotte, majoring in journalism with a concentration in electronic communication.