Wake County Organizations Work Tirelessly to End Food Insecurity

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series on Food Insecurity

While Wake County is a desirable destination for relocators, food insecurity rates remain high. The county’s population, nearly at 1,000,000, has a food insecure rate of 13.8%. Though still high, it remains in the lower segment. Some North Carolina counties have a rate as high as 25%.

The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is one of the largest collectors and distributors of food in the area, serving 34 counties, including Wake. According to Jennifer Caslin, Communications Specialist for the Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, Wake County makes up 21% of the recipients.

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“Incomes have gone down, and while there has been a rash of people to move here in recent years, the opportunity they came for maybe wasn’t what they hoped. They either can’t find a job or are finding jobs that aren’t paying as well,” said Caslin.

This increase in population and decrease in income has created a significant need for food.

There are dozens of food banks in the area as well as agencies that distribute food to those in need. Most of these are volunteer operated. The Food Bank vets all agencies they work with, a total of 800 including approximately 200 in Wake County alone.

“Without these small groups we could not do what we do,” said Caslin.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also serves a seven-county area and concentrates on food distribution. It also operates a food recovery program.

“We have relationships with almost 200 food donors – grocery stores, food distributors, and the state farmer’s market – and strict guidelines on what we pick up and redistribute,” said Cindy Sink, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Director of Marketing, Communications and Development. “We train our recipient agencies in safe food handling and certification.”

Feeding the County’s Children

Each agency has programs – Backpack Buddies at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Kids Meals and More at the Food Bank – that make sure school-aged children have adequate and healthy food after school and on weekends.

BackPack Buddies serves many elementary and middle schools throughout the county. Rolesville High School was the first High School in Wake County to launch the program. The backpacks are stuffed with food items that students may discreetly take and often bring home with them to help the rest of the family. As a result, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle has expanded its program with a school pantry program. Enloe High School and Daniels Middle School currently have pantries where families may come and choose the food they need. Thanks to a grant, the program will be expanded to East Wake, Knightdale, Longview, Mary Phillips and Southeast High Schools.

The Food Bank of North Carolina’s Kids Meals and More is an umbrella for three programs that target children especially when school is out, a time when students are more likely to be hungry. Kid’s Café offers an afterschool program complete with tutoring and a snack. Weekend Power Pack provides a backpack each Friday to eligible children containing enough nutritious food to last until Monday. Finally, the Kids Summer Meal Program provides eligible children with nutritious meals during the summer through partnership organizations.

Feeding the County’s Seniors

The Senior population along with children is a vulnerable group. A recent survey by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) found that North Carolina ranks 8th in the nation for at-risk seniors, which translates to 18% of Wake County Seniors being at risk. Nationally, 1 in 6 seniors is at risk of going hungry.

Meals on Wheels of Wake County serves hot meals to seniors daily providing not just a nourishing meal but also comfort and companionship. Mary Kate Keith, Director of Communications and Marketing for Meals on Wheels of Wake County, sees the struggles first hand that many of her clients face with food insecurity.

“The 60-plus population is often overlooked when discussing hunger, but it clearly needs attention,” said Keith.

The Push to End Hunger 

All of these agencies – statewide, county and local – work tirelessly to do what they can to end hunger knowing it’s a massive undertaking. All agree that feeding those in need is important; however, more needs to be done.

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“Putting food on a plate only solves a problem in the short-run. We must address the root causes of hunger as well: lack of access to healthy food and lack of income to purchase healthy food.  As a community, we need to look at the community food system as a whole and work to make healthy food a priority for everyone, regardless of income or where you live,” said Sink.

Though food insecurity rates have decreased in the past few years, they are still not at pre-recession numbers. North Carolina remains in the top 15 nationally, proving there is more to be done.

“We’d like to work ourselves out of a job, but I don’t see it happening any time soon,” stated Caslin.

— Lisa Brown • lisa.brown@rolesvillebuzz.com • October 2016