A donation from Food Lion came right on time last week for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.
The Salisbury-based grocery store chain donated $10,000 worth of store-brand food items and a $5,000 for the food bank’s Triad Community Kitchen program during a special presentation at Second Harvest’s Winston-Salem headquarters.
The grocery chain’s generosity could not have come at a better time. The 30 year-old food bank, which serves 300 partner agencies across an 18-county area, is facing unprecedented food shortages. But even the Food Lion gift would only carry the agency so far.
“We will be totally out of food to distribute by tomorrow,” Second Harvest Executive Director Clyde Fitzgerald said on Aug. 16, the day of the donation. “If we don’t have it, we can’t distribute it. By next week, 300,000 people in our program that rely on our network for life sustaining food assistance will not be able to get it.”
Kathy Whicker, a Food Lion employee who has been a member of Second Harvest’s Board of Directors since 2009, hopes Food Lion’s donation spurs others to action.
“This is not only a way of reaching out to our community, it’s a way of thanking our associates for the things that they do, because the need is so great,” she said “…If we can get the word out how great the need is and that Food Lion’s contributing, maybe we can get even more businesses to reach out to communities in North Carolina.”
Second Harvest will be able to continue its Summer Feeding Program until school starts back Aug. 27 because the food had already been purchased, Fitgerald said, but Second Harvest’s day-to-day operations remain in jeopardy. The gift from Food Lion was enough to help the food bank extend its operation by two and a half hours on Wednesday, officials said.
“What it means is we’ll be able to provide over 16,000 meals for people in need and be able to do that immediately,” Fitzgerald said. “It will definitely make a difference to those who are receiving it.”
Tomi Melson, Second Harvest’s director of development, said hunger is a real problem in North Carolina, with one in five school aged children listed as food insecure, meaning they are unsure where their next meal is coming from. The situation could worsen considerably if the Congress approves proposed cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) next month, Melson said.
“On a normal day if we have it, this food bank ships out 27 tons of food. We’re in a critical situation right this minute, at this warehouse,” Melson said. “…If the national emergency food money gets slashed, we’re going to see hunger in this country like we haven’t seen since The Great Depression. It’s very serious.”
High unemployment rates are among of the biggest contributing factors to the high demand Second Harvest has experienced in recent years, Fitzgerald said. Triad Community Kitchen addresses that issue by providing a free program for the unemployed and underemployed that provides the culinary skills and training needed to land jobs in the food service industry. Executive Chef Jeff Bacon, who oversees the program, says the project has been a great success. Sixty five percent of its 324 graduates are now gainfully employed, Bacon reported. Currently, the program is training its 24th class.
The grant from Food Lion helps offset the cost of purchasing food for the program. The student chefs prepare and donate meals to food insecure residents in the Second Harvest service area. Bacon said the grocer has provided support for the program through the grant for several years.
“It is a huge part of our food budget and it really helps, being that that’s one part of our budget that we really don’t have to worry about, which is nice,” he said.
Second Harvest has weathered some hard times before and will have to again now that the North Carolina General Assembly has significantly reduced the state’s emergency food assistance budget for Fiscal Year 2013, but Fitzgerald said these are pretty trying times for the agency.
“It has never been like this. It’s been low before and the community has helped immediately, but we’ve never been in a situation where we would likely not have anything to distribute,” he related. “…This is a very dire situation. It makes me feel sick to my stomach knowing that we’re not able to provide the food assistance that hundreds of thousands of people rely on us to provide.”
Second Harvest is asking community members and local businesses to help address its food shortage by donating food, donating funds, and spreading the word about the agency’s urgent need. For more information about how you can help, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.hungernwnc.org” www.hungernwnc.org, call 336-784-5770 or find Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC on Facebook.