Freedom from Hunger campaign to help hungry, raise awareness

By Caroline Klapper | Mar 30, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director CeCe Hipps, center, talks about the Freedom from Hunger campaign during a recent meeting with Manna FoodBank representatives.

Every Fourth of July the nation commemorates its freedom, but this summer Manna FoodBank is hoping to have something different to celebrate in Haywood County.

With the support of local agencies, nonprofits and businesses, Manna is launching a Freedom from Hunger campaign throughout the county from June 15 to July 15. But instead of being just a regular food drive, the campaign will also focus on spreading awareness and getting people involved in the fight against hunger in this county.

Manna representatives recently had a meeting to discuss the campaign, and the idea was received enthusiastically.

“This community, it’s amazing to me the ways in which you work together,” said Manna representative Donna Ensley.

The idea of expanding the campaign beyond the simple task of collecting food for the needy appealed to Joe Sam Queen, who was one of the attendees at the planning meeting.

“To me, one of the goals would be to understand what are some of the challenges for people in our community. Hunger is just the tip of the ice burg,” he said, explaining that when people go hungry it is usually a symptom of bigger issues, such as job loss. “What we really need to do is try to build volunteers and a support base to help solve problems long-term.”

While much planning still needs to be done, everyone at the meeting committed to helping with the Freedom from Hunger campaign, and they plan to spread the work in the hopes of getting other individuals and organizations involved.

“I think having a community-wide campaign for this would be more successful than anything we could do on our own,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

Even though it might not be obvious, hunger is a real problem in Haywood County.

According to a 2011 study by the Food Research and Action Center, more than one in five people struggled to afford food at some point during the year in the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), an area that includes Haywood County. Furthermore, the Asheville area came in third in the country for food hardship in a ranking of the largest 100 MSAs in the country.

Manna FoodBank is one of the organizations trying to combat hunger in Western North Carolina by working with local agencies, food banks, soup kitchens, churches and others to provide food to the needy. In Haywood County alone, Manna partners with 23 different agencies to help provide food for the hungry in the community.

However, despite its local efforts, most of Manna’s funding and food donations come from government programs, co-op buying food purchasing programs or donations from food retailers. Only 29 percent of donations are local, which means most of the assistance Manna provides for Haywood programs comes from outside of the community.

“Many of these agencies rely almost completely on Manna,” said Leigh Coakley Pettus, director of programs and agency services. “What we’re asking for is more support. We (want) to be able to infuse these local agencies with support from your local community.”

One of the goals of the local campaign is to strengthen the programs Manna’s partner agencies in Haywood County.

“How do we raise awareness about hunger? How do we help our partner agencies get more food?” Ensley asked, adding that many of the food assistance programs in the county would like to be more self-sufficient on a local level. One woman told her, “People in Haywood County really would like to take care of our own.”

Manna Executive Director Cindy Threlkeld said spreading awareness as well as collecting food during the drive is a good way to gain more support and volunteers for local agencies.

“We’re using the food drive as the nucleus to engage people and raise awareness,” she said. “They need this infusion of energy and support.”

For information or to help with the Manna FoodBank Freedom from Hunger campaign, call 229-FOOD (3663) or visit www.MANNAFoodBank.org.

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