The Town of Chapel Hill is currently looking for more volunteers to help with its weekly food distribution events, which are hosted by the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and the Chapel Hill Public Housing Office.

Held every Wednesday at the Eubanks Park-and-Ride lot in Chapel Hill, the town’s distribution events help to feed hundreds of Orange County families, with volunteers packing cars with an assortment of goods. The latest food drive on July 28 was no exception.

“We never know what we’re guaranteed to get, but the past couple of days we’ve gotten some meat, which has been really great,” said Logan Ramirez, the site coordinator for the food drive. “Anytime we can give a family some meat, some cheese, some vegetables, and some cereal – a variety of some different kinds of food – is always a good day.”

Boxes of food to be loaded into resident’s cars at the July 28 food drive in Chapel Hill.

Ramirez has helped facilitate Chapel Hill’s weekly food distribution events since February of 2020, right before the onset of the pandemic, when the food drive was still being held at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

At the peak of pandemic shutdowns, Ramirez and his team were feeding more than 1,000 families each week, and while the demand today isn’t as great as it was then, he said “the need is still there.”

“People came in and when we were giving them food, they’re just so grateful. They’re crying – and it’s not like you say that in a bad way – they’re just generally so grateful and so appreciative of this because when the pandemic hit, you know, it was huge. People needed jobs; people needed food. But I will state this was going on before the pandemic and it’s going to be going on well after.”

Dozens of cars line up ahead of 10 a.m. to be loaded up with food at the distribution event on Wednesday.

Over the past few weeks, these food distribution events have fed roughly 300 families every Wednesday, starting at 10 a.m. and going until 11:30 or until all the food is gone.

As the number of local families needing food assistance has decreased over the past few months, however, Ramirez said the need for volunteers has grown. He said, ideally, they need 23 to 26 volunteers for smooth operations, but recently, those numbers have been falling short.

“Two weeks back, I think we had maybe 10 or 12 volunteers, and you could just feel it,” Ramirez said. “We had to adapt, as we all do, when we have less volunteers and we made it work and that’s fine, but it was just like, man, we do need some more volunteers for those kinds of moments.”

Volunteers load boxes of food into resident’s trunks at the July 28 food drive.

While the town is actively looking for more volunteers, Ramirez said the team they do have is really “solid.”

One of those team members is Eleanor Howe. She has been helping with Chapel Hill’s food distribution events since November of 2020 – as soon as she felt comfortable enough working around people masked up.

“When we first started, there were just hundreds of cars and huge pallets of food and many more workers,” Howe said. “It was hard to keep up. Now that it’s hot, we have fewer people coming and not as much food to give away, but also not as many volunteers, so it’s still really busy.”

Howe said even though it feels like things are retuning to normal, the need for food and the need for volunteers is just as important now as it was at the start of the pandemic – and volunteering at the food drive is a great way to make a difference.

“It’s fun. It is hot. It can be hard work, but there’s a place for everybody, whatever your abilities,” Howe said. “And it’s a great core people here. Faith and Logan who are leading this effort are incredibly great and they’ve organized it so well. It’s a wonderful thing to do for the community.”

As the Town of Chapel Hill seeks more volunteers, the Town of Carrboro is winding down its own monthly food distribution events. Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle told 97.9 The Hill that with school starting back up and the number of families needing assistance decreasing, the town’s latest event in July may be the last.

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