As the weather gets colder, it seems like our attention turns to food. From November through December, food traditions are front and center in our mind. In January, we are simultaneously craving warm comfort food to ward off the cold and fighting to keep our New Year’s resolution to lose that weight. With February and Valentine’s Day, romantic dinners are planned and chocolate is bought at a furious pace.
For many of our neighbors, however, their thoughts about food tend to revolve around how to get enough of it to feed themselves and their families. The statistics are startling: according to Susan Romaine of PORCH, one in five families in Chapel Hill and Carrboro live in poverty, supporting on average a family of four on less than $24,000 a year. Such widespread poverty means that, according to TABLE, 30% of elementary-age children are at risk of hunger over the weekend without the free subsidized meals they get at school. Despite being one of the top agricultural states in the country, North Carolina ranks second in the nation for food insecurity for children under 5, at 24.1%, and yet fifth in childhood obesity at 19.3%, based on a Feeding America study in 2007.
There is, however, an abundance of non-profits in our midst fighting food insecurity to help support our neighbors in need. I was fortunate enough to speak to representatives of three of them, PORCH NC, TABLE, and Farmer Foodshare, to learn more about their missions and how community members can help.
PORCH is a volunteer-run hunger relief organization. Monthly neighborhood-based food drives help collect non-perishable items for seven local food pantries in the area; there are 130 participating neighborhoods lead by a coordinator or point person. The coordinator will email their participating neighbors with the pickup date, as well as any particular pantry needs for the month. On the pickup day, neighbors leave their non-perishable items on their porches to be picked up by the coordinator. They also deliver fresh food to 230 families living in poverty in the area, some of which is provided by fellow local non-profit, Farmer Foodshare, through the Food for Families program. A recent $20,000 grant from the Share the Food Foundation allowed PORCH to add more families to the program, as well as to add nutrition education and recipes to the packages to encourage healthy eating habits. All in all, PORCH collects and distributes more than 1,000 bags of food every month. Because PORCH is an all-volunteer grass roots organization, community help is always appreciated. PORCH accepts food donations, which are as easy as to make as contacting a neighborhood coordinator and leaving non-perishable items on your porch on donation day, and cash donations. There are a lot of Burmese refugee families served by the program that were unprepared for the cold winter weather of North Carolina; as a result, PORCH also accepts donations of coats for winter weather. Volunteering as a neighborhood coordinator to add more neighborhoods is another way to help, and finally, volunteers are always welcome at food sorts at St. Thomas More church in Chapel Hill, where non-perishables are sorted to send to the different food pantries served by PORCH. The next food sort is on Monday, March 24th. More information can be found on their website.
TABLE is also a local non-profit seeking to alleviate food insecurity in our community. TABLE is based in Carrboro, with the mission to put nutritious food directly in the hands of local hungry kids or, as executive director Ashton Tippins puts it, “local people feeding local kids.” They currently serve an average of 212 children per week through their Weekend Meal Backpack Program, which provides healthy non-perishables, local produce and fresh milk for children on weekends and school holidays when their free school meals are unavailable; the participating students are often identified by social workers at their schools or after school programs. TABLE also works with 95 kids twice a month through the Snack Chef program, which teaches kids how to make healthy snacks that they can go home and replicate with their families. Community members can support TABLE by volunteering their time; donating cash, which helps encourage the organization’s growth and allows TABLE to purchase fresh food; and donating healthy non-perishable foods, like shelf-stable milk, low-sugar fruit cups, and low-sugar juice boxes. Cash donations are accepted via cash, check, or on their website.
Farmer Foodshare is a non-profit organization that works to support and transform the public and economic health of NC communities by connecting people who grow food with people who need food. Most community members will be familiar with Farmer Foodshare from their donation stations at local farmer’s markets. Shoppers can donate food bought at the market or money, which is used to purchase food from the farmers at the market that day. The food is then donated to local hunger relief groups, like PORCH, who in turn distribute it to their clients. They also have a POP Market program which connects local farmers and low-wealth customers and agencies for wholesale transactions. According to donation station coordinator Katy Phillips, “the program aims to increase the health of our community by brokering mutually beneficial transactions between buyers and NC limited resource farmers/food producers.” Community members can help support the program by donating at Donation Stations at their local farmers markets or by volunteering at the Donation Station themselves. For more information on Farmer Foodshare and how to get invovled, visit their website.
These organizations, along with several others in the Chapelboro community, are working to make sure that all of our neighbors have enough to eat, not only during the holidays, but year round. By working together, hopefully we can make a difference to end hunger in our communities.
Thank you to Susan Romaine of PORCH NC, Ashton Tippins of TABLE, and Katy Phillips of Farmer Foodshare for their help.