New Program Provides Summer Lunches to Kids in Need

At Northside Elementary School, the students are done working but not the cafeteria staff. They are still preparing dozens of lunches; filling the bags with food and getting ready to pass them out.

The meals are part of Food for the Summer, a program aiming to feed school age children, especially those on free-and-reduced price lunch.

Katie Hug is the program coordinator. She is leading a group of volunteers that will pass out food at 14 sites across Chapel Hill and Carrboro all summer.

While working with United Way, Hug learned that there was money earmarked for summer food programs from the federal government that was going unused.

Essie Markham packs lunches at Northside Elementary School (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Essie Markham packs lunches at Northside Elementary School (Photo by Chris Grunert)

“It really does take someone like myself, like a program coordinator to recruit all of these volunteers, oversee of these sites, you know, market to the children to let them know,” said Hug.

Funding for the program comes from the USDA. Staff from the school district prepare the lunches. The Inter-Faith Council pays Hug. It’s truly a community effort.

About 3,400 kids are on free-and-reduced lunch in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District. In summers past, only about 900 of those kids would get fed from a program based out of Varsity Church. Food for the Summer’s goal is to reach 1,500 kids each day.

Many summer food programs operate at schools. Food for the Summer tries to bring food right to where it is needed.

“When we starting selecting sites, we said, ‘Well, we’re going to do something different, we’re going to bring it right to the low income apartment complexes,’” said Hug.

Volunteers are really coming out to help too. Before heading out to deliver food on a Friday afternoon, volunteers loaded up their vehicles with bag lunches, milk and bananas.

Hug said most of the volunteer spots have been filled but they are considering expanding to more sites.

“We can’t have enough volunteers,” said Hug.

Over at Hargraves Community Center, kids ride around on their bikes and play on the swing set, while others finish their lunch of chicken nuggets and sweet corn. Volunteers, like Jennifer Spring, passed out about 15 lunches there on Friday. Spring said that helping out had a bigger effect on her than she expected.

“I see the need and it’s touched me,” said

Summertime can often put parents in a difficult situation, to provide an extra meal for their kids than during the school year. Food for the Summer hopes to fill that gap for more and more families around Chapel Hill.

Estes Hills Food Drive Helps Families Over Holidays

Lots of kids in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district receive free and reduced-price lunch. But when school is not in session, that option isn’t there – and that can place an added financial burden on families that are already struggling to make ends meet, particularly around the Christmas season.

Every year, Estes Hills Elementary School conducts a school-wide food drive, “Food for Friends,” to collect nonperishable items for families in the school community. School social worker Betsy Booth spearheads the operation every year, with the help of volunteers. She says more than 100 Estes Hills students qualify for free and reduced lunch – and anything the community can do for those kids and their families over the winter break would help make it a merrier Christmas all around.

Betsy Booth spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


The “Food for Friends” drive began in November and runs until this Friday, December 11. Everyone’s invited to bring donations to Estes Hills Elementary School, located at 500 Estes Drive in Chapel Hill.

Orange County Wealthy On Average, But Poverty Still Lingers

Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn. Photo by Donn Young, courtesy of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.

CHAPEL HILL – Year after year, Orange County consistently ranks as the wealthiest in the state of North Carolina—but poverty, even here, continues to be a nagging and serious issue.

“There’s a big disparity between wealth, (and) there continues to be growth in childhood poverty,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson at his annual State of the Community presentation this week. “That is (a statistic) that we need to pay close attention to.”

Orange County ranks first in the state with a per capita income of $48,683 in 2011, well above the state average of $36,000. But in spite of that, our poverty rate is also well above the state average: in 2011, 16.9 percent of Orange County residents were living below the poverty line, compared to 16.1 percent of all North Carolinians (and 14.3 percent of all Americans). The percentage is even higher in Chapel Hill alone, where 22.1 percent of residents lived below the poverty line in 2011.

“Some folks have often discounted that–(because they think) that’s just the student population…but our poverty level is high,” Nelson says. “We ought not to discount it simply because it includes students.”

For the first time, researchers this year were able to distinguish between students and non-students when analyzing wealth and poverty in the area. Students do account for much of the poverty rate in Chapel Hill—but that poverty rate is still elevated even when they’re taken out of the equation. About ten percent of Chapel Hill’s non-student population lives below the poverty line—a poverty rate that’s less than the state average, but still more than twice as high as nearby communities like Apex and Cary.

And the poverty rate increases when the focus is narrowed to children. “That is on the rise,” says Nelson, “and in a pretty serious way.”

The key increase is in the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” children, which is to say children who qualify for free and reduced lunch. 26.5 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School students and 41.6 percent of Orange County School students qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2011-12—the highest percentage in both districts since at least 2006, when the Chamber began collecting data.

And the high level of need in Orange County is at odds with the common perception of Chapel Hill as a wealthy community—a disconnect that actually makes it harder for governmental and non-governmental organizations to address the real need that exists.

“(It’s called) ‘Chapel Hill Syndrome,'” Nelson says. “Donors get this: it’s a belief that we don’t need anything, Orange County doesn’t need anything–we have the highest per capita income, the University’s there, the hospital’s there, your economy’s bulletproof–but the reality is that some of us feel that way and forget to reinvest and take a look under the rocks on what’s going on in our community with respect to poverty, particularly children in poverty.”

Nelson delivered his State of the Community report on Tuesday at the Friday Center. You can see the full presentation at this link.