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A need to feed

By Charyssa Parent

According to a 2013 study by the United States Department of Agriculture, 14.3 percent of Americans are food insecure. That’s more than 44 million people who lack reliable access to nutritious food. In other words, these people do not know where their next meal is coming from.

This is a national problem that North Carolina is seeing first hand. North Carolina ranks 10th nationwide, as more than one-in-four children are food insecure. Approximately 160,000 North Carolinians receive emergency food assistance each week and 16.8 percent of state residents are living below the poverty line, according to the N.C. Food Bank and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although most prevalent in Asheville, Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, many in Alamance County struggle to put food on the table. With a population of 153,920 people, 17.3 percent of residents are living below poverty level, including 26.3 percent of children.

On top of that, 19 percent of citizens in Alamance County are food insecure, and more than half of Alamance’s children receive free or reduced lunch at the public schools.

With the holidays coming up, community groups are doing all that they can to make sure that families have a sufficient amounts of food. Off of Huffman Mill Road, the Holly Hill Mall Board of Directors work to help the homeless in conjunction with Allied Churches of Alamance County. The organization was given an empty store to keep a food pantry. The mall only charges a small fee for electricity, but no leasing fee.

Kim Crawford, director of Allied Churches of Alamance County, said the amount of food that the pantries serve is enough for about 17,200 people per month. But the amount of aid that the pantry provides is not nearly enough. Each individual family averages a minimum of 50 pounds of food per visit.

“That supply goes very quickly,” Crawford said.

Allied Churches is the only emergency homeless shelter in Alamance County and runs two food pantries at the mall and at their own facility, giving out weekday meals to the public as well as three meals each day to shelter clients. Operating almost entirely off of donations, supplies and food is impossible to provide to all of the poverty stricken and hungry people in Alamance County.

The local schools also have discreet programs in place so students’ peers are not aware of their financial standings. Jan Bowman, a social worker with the Alamance-Burlington School System, said through federal grants, the county is given a budget to help low-income students receive free or reduced lunch.

Ultimately, Bowman said, students who do not know where their next meal is coming from or where they are sleeping that night will not reach their full potential in the class room.

“Children will hoard things because they have very little sense of self ownership and they’ll take food if they’re hungry,” she said. “They’ll take an apple off of a tray in the cafeteria and they’ll know that they have an apple tonight.”

Through the number of free and reduced lunches, Bowman said the county can better assess the food insecurity population and the aid needed within the county.

“There’s that parallelism between free and reduced lunch rate and the highest need,” Bowman said. “Some elementary schools is the district are almost 100 percent on free and reduced lunches.”

But helping these young students with breakfast and lunch still leaves out dinner and weekend meals. To help with weekend meals, Feeding America created the Backpack Program in 2005.

“It is very discreet,” Bowman said. “The students are given a backpack that looks just like a standard backpack, it is handed to a child on a Friday with food hopefully to get the family at least through the weekend.”

Schools that are eligible for this backpack program are public schools that have more than 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunches. In Alamance County, Newlin Elementary School and Sparta Elementary School both qualify.

Other community relief efforts work to gather resources to end food insecurity in the area. Each year, the community comes together for the Crop Hunger Walk, which helps raise donations for water and food globally, with 25 percent of the proceeds going to the local community hunger efforts. This year’s raised more than $3,000.

Stamp Out Hunger is a yearly food drive put on by the local Post Office. Employees drop off an empty bag to residents with instructions, then pick it up the following week when it’s filled with food.

The Salvation Army participates in a food drive along with Elon University student organizations and many different Elon sorority and fraternity organizations put together their own drives.

“We’re serving, through our mercy food pantry, more than 40,000 people a year, which is huge when you’re thinking of poverty,” said Jimmy Taylor, captain of the Salvation Army of Alamance County. “You have to decide whether food is going to be a priority in my life or rent, medicine or clothing.”

Among the Salvation Army’s many efforts is providing the homeless and those in poverty with food supplies. The Salvation Army has provided more than 1.35 million meals to the food insecure in North Carolina since 2011, according to its website.

“And so, we’ve tried to find, well, food’s an expensive thing, let’s try to meet people’s needs when it comes to food,” Taylor said. “And it’s been something that’s really been helpful to people here in the community.”

But members of the community who are often overlooked are ex-convicts. Phil Bowers, founder of Sustainable Alamance, said the government and the community are not allowing some demographics to have a fair shot at a second chance.

“Certain level felonies, you can’t get food stamps,” Bowers said. “So a guy gets out of prison, we don’t have a place for him to and we won’t help him eat. And somehow we’re surprised when he goes back and sells more drugs.”

Today especially, most food drives have a huge push in the community and all efforts are working together so men, women and children get to have a full stomach during the holidays.