Closing the gap: Bread Riot address nutritional shortages

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 29, 2022

SALISBURY — For those plagued by food insecurity, getting proper nutrition is a yearlong battle that often results in compromises to stretch a buck. However, there is a local nonprofit aiming to address that nutritional gap.

The Bread Riot is helping some Rowan County students and their families add local produce to the menu through its new School Harvest Bags program. The drive distributes fresh produce from area farmers to families from Koontz Elementary School and North Rowan Middle School.

In mid-November, the organization began delivering 10 biweekly produce bags to each school, with plans to give 200 bags by the end of March.

According to estimates from the hunger-relief organization Feeding America, nearly 22% of Rowan County children faced food insecurity in 2020. Bread Riot president Dottie Hoy indicated that when tough decisions are faced, fresh produce usually ends up on the chopping block, leaving children nutritionally short-changed.

“We hope that having this large amount of fresh produce every two weeks will have a significant impact on the health of the families,” Hoy said.

Bread Riot purchases seasonal vegetables and other food directly from small local farmers and producers to fill the bags.

Bread Riot volunteers pick up the items from local farms and then sort and pack them into reusable grocery bags before delivering them to the schools. Recipe suggestions are included in the bags.

“Having fresh produce every two weeks allows families to have nutritious choices that they probably would not have otherwise,” said Sybil Austin-McDowell, a school social worker at Koontz Elementary. “By the time they run out, they are getting more, so they can continue to make healthy choices.”

Austin-McDowell indicated that nutrient-dense meals might even lead to academic success.

“Students who eat healthy are healthier overall, so they are not missing school as much,” Austin-McDowell said. “Additionally, they are better prepared to learn than students who do not have healthy choices.”

Lyn Wilson is a student support specialist at North Rowan Middle, where she helps distribute produce bags to the students and parents.

“I think it is definitely going to help with their grocery needs,” Wilson said. “You can make some big pots of soup with all that produce.”

Rowan County students are not the only beneficiaries of the program. As the drive aligns with The Bread Riot’s mission to link farms to tables by supporting small farmers and providing access to locally-produced foods throughout the community, local food producers are reaping benefits too.

One recent delivery included collard greens from Downing Farms in Salisbury, carrots from Farmer’s Daughter Organics in Mount Ulla and lettuce from Main Street Marketplace in China Grove.

During times of the year when local outlets for selling their produce are often closed, local farmers will still have the means to move their fruits and vegetables.

“Knowing that we have a market for our products is definitely encouraging, and we absolutely love where it’s going,” said Brittany Chester of Farmer’s Daughter Organics. “It’s a great educational opportunity and also very beneficial for the kids’ health.”

The School Harvest Bags program is being funded by a grant from the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran in America, as well as proceeds from Bread Riot’s annual Riot at New Sarum event.