Food assistance needs increase in Haywood, WNC

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Aug 27, 2014
Photo by: File photo A box of food is pictured in the food pantry at the Haywood Christian Ministry. A majority of the food comes from the MANNA Food Bank in Asheville.

Findings from a recent Hunger in America study shows that an estimated 107,600 people in Western North Carolina turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families.

This number is a slight increase over the last WNC Hunger in America study conducted in 2010, which estimated 106,600 people seeking food assistance.

The study also reflects what’s been going in Haywood County for the past few years, as the number of families needing food assistance from local food banks, such as Haywood Christian Ministry, has steadily increased.

Lisa James, executive director for Haywood Christian Ministry, reports giving 1,882 local families food boxes as of July. The boxes contain donated food items that come from the MANNA Food Bank branch in Asheville and other local organizations.

“We get a lot of our food from MANNA food bank,” James said referring to the food boxes that are distributed twice a month. “That’s the only agency we partner with, but we also get a lot of food from local churches and places that do food drives like Cataloochee and the Mail Carriers Association.”

James said the number of families needing the food boxes has steadily grown since January, which is a significant increase of families in need since last year.

“Every year we’ve increased our number of clients,” James said “We helped 5,800 (families) in 2013, and that was up 300 families from the year before.”

“I think part of the reason is our economy in this area hasn’t improved,” James added. “And as cost of food gas other life-sustaining things continue increase, people’s budgets get stretched and stretched, and they keep needing our resources.”

To find out how to donate to Haywood Christian Ministry, call 828-456-4838.

Study findings

The Hunger in America 2014 local findings show that an estimated 13,000 people are served each week by the over 200 partner agencies that are part of the MANNA network. In MANNA’s most recent fiscal year, it distributed over 14 million pounds of food, an increase of 22 percent over last year.

Nationally, Hunger in America 2014 found that more than 46 million people turn to agencies and programs of the Feeding America network of food banks every year.

“The Hunger in America 2014 findings demonstrate the urgent need for all of us to address hunger in our communities,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America. “This data provides a factual basis for decisions about how we as a nation approach hunger relief and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

MANNA FoodBank has been a member of the Feeding America network since 1993.

“These statistics support what we hear from our partner agencies regarding increased demand, but just as importantly, this study helps us understand the everyday struggles of the people we serve,” said Cindy Threlkeld, MANNA executive director. “Sixty percent of the households that seek food assistance in Western North Carolina are surviving on less than $1,000 a month. This fact alone necessitates constant trade-offs: food or medicine, food or a warm home, food or transportation. The physical and psychological stress on our clients is heart-breaking.”

Spending trade-offs for people seeking food assistance were very common. Three out four households chose between paying for food and paying for utilities at least once in the past year. Over half of households had to choose between paying for food and paying for housing.

Unfortunately, the number one coping strategy for a lean food budget was buying cheapest food available regardless of the health content, as cited by nearly nine out of 10 households. MANNA is doing what it can to combat that hard reality; in the last year, MANNA distributed 3.3 million pounds of fruits and vegetables.

A summary of the findings is available at MANNAFoodBank.org

Food insecurities at school

Food insecurities are also detectable in school cafeterias, where many children in Haywood receive their major source of food.

In fact, according to a recent Map the Meal Gap Study, 34 percent or 3,580 children in Haywood County are considered food insecure, meaning they children live in households facing difficulty meeting basic food needs. Over 70 percent of the children attending school in Haywood County are on free or reduced lunch.

As a way to combat this problem, the Waynesville Rotary Club began Haywood’s Hungry Kids.

This program, which developed out of a pilot program in Haywood County Schools, partnered with MANNA Food Bank to give children a backpack filled with food to take home each Friday so they would have some nutrition over the weekend.

Currently Haywood’s Hungry Kids through the Waynesville Rotary Club Foundation is in need of donations that will ensure the children participating in the program last year will receive food bags each week through mid-fall.

A $128 donation will support one child for the entire school year in the MANNA Food Packs Program, but all donations of any amount are accepted and appreciated. All donations to Help Haywood’s Hungry Kids are tax-deductible and benefit the children of Haywood County directly. Checks can be made out to the Waynesville Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 988, Waynesville, NC 28786.

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