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FOOD & DRINK

A Hunger Safety Net:

Issues of social class, religious beliefs, or political agenda are dwarfed comparatively to global hunger, which demands the attention of all. Unfortunately, there is an immense collection of people struggling to provide basic nutritional necessities for themselves and their families, right here in North Carolina. The counteracting force of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (FBCENC), led by President Peter Werbicki, has fought for over 30 years to contain the problematic issue of hunger.

“The mission of the food bank is to harness and supply resources so that no one goes hungry in central & eastern North Carolina,” Werbicki says.
The nonprofit organization serves 34 counties and works with communities to move forward on this pressing issue. Of course, tackling an issue with such severe implications on a large group of people takes a careful approach. There are primary strategies the organization targets to maintain nutritional success in all participating counties.

“First, we aim to accumulate and efficiently distribute high-quality foods and non-food essentials to nonprofit agencies that serve the hungry” Werbicki explains. “In addition, we work to strengthen the agencies directly responsible for distributing the food.”

A major fiber to the success of FBCENC has been its sustainability. Through private financial donations from businesses, individuals, foundations and faith-based channels, the food bank recovers food donations. “We take inventory, followed by redistributing to a network of 850 nonprofit partner agencies (food pantries, group homes, emergency shelters, etc.) directly through one of our six sites or we deliver to their door.” In turn, the agencies provide the supplies to those in need in their community.

The statistical evidence of hunger’s vicious and relentless influence on North Carolinians is staggering. Currently, 545,000 individuals live at or below the poverty line; that’s 1 in 7 people, and it doesn’t include the 200 percent who can’t cover their rent or mortgage, among other necessary bills.

“Of those, 34 percent are children,” Werbicki reveals. “Eleven of our counties are considered in the highest tier of economic distress, and 14 remain with double digits of unemployment. In the last two years, a cross sampling of nearly 40 partner agencies have experienced an accumulative increase up to 50 percent in the number of individuals they are serving.”

Three forms of donations help alleviate the stress that comes with battling such an overwhelming reality. Through forms of food, financial or volunteering, the Food Bank keeps their production ongoing. Last year alone, 145,000 volunteers registered hours, helping break through the wall of hunger one person at a time.

Naturally, the holidays usher in an increase of funds and food-drive resources, but Werbicki imparts the importance of this issue year-round. “Hunger is a daily issue, not seasonal,” he says. “In fact, a time when there is greater vulnerability is during the summer when children who have been on free and reduced school breakfast and lunch programs are home. Their parents lose that safety net.”

Yet, FBCENC puts up a fight on that front as well, thanks to their Summer Feeding initiative. During the season, produce donations increase, helping not only feed children but healthfully so. The holiday drives see general nonperishable donations. Between both seasons, along with other programs and resources, the Food Bank collects an average of 3 to 3.5 million pounds a month. Events like Students Against Hunger help schools compete to raise food and financial resources.

“Heart of Carolina is in its 24th year,” Werbicki adds, “[and] is sponsored by ABC 11. It’s one of our largest drives for the community to participate in. Many businesses hold drives on our behalf.”

Donations of non-perishable food items can be dropped off at the local headquarters, 1314 Marstellar Street, downtown Wilmington, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 910-251-1465 for more information.

Lowe’s Foods’ “Friends Feeding Friends,” now in its 16th year, can also help the food bank, as its goal is to collect a million pounds of food in stores across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Shoppers can purchase pre-made bags of non-perishable items, and drop the bags off in donation bins located in each store.

Also taking place on December 7th is “Twitter for Food,” which runs in conjunction with “Give a Meal for a Meal.” Participants can pack lunch, skip a meal or donate what they normally spend on food for the day to the campaign. Taking place the first Tuesday each month, the program donates the monies to hunger relief organizations. Consider this: For every dollar donated to the Food Bank, the organization can provide $8 worth of food for four meals.

Behind the scenes, Werbicki and his crew continuously work on improvements that can be made to the nonprofit organization. From analyzing new and expanded food resources, to tweaking programs and awareness, whether in community gardens, food education, awareness or access to federal resources, their work is a never-ending feat. Just the same, preventative measures must match the extreme flexibility of this issue. |

Organizations like the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina will not remain stagnate on the issue of hunger. Efforts will continue to be deployed in areas of concern until the crisis is neutralized. At the core of the issue, one idea will always remain true: No one deserves to be hungry and helpless.

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