One in five ‘food insecure’

Published 6:20 pm Saturday, August 18, 2012

Twenty percent of Beaufort County’s population is “food insecure,” according to a Food Bank of the Albemarle spokeswoman.
That information came during remarks made by Allison Wills, food-resource coordinator for the food bank, during a presentation to Washington’s City Council last week. The presentation was related to Hunger Action Month, which is observed during September.
The food bank, which serves 15 counties in eastern North Carolina, has 20 partner agencies in Beaufort County, Wills said, including Eagle’s Wings and Mother of Mercy Catholic Church.
“We just recently completed a meal-gap analysis. We have discovered that one in five citizens in Beaufort County are food insecure. When I say they’re food insecure, it means either they don’t know where their next meal is coming from or they’re not sure they’re going to have money to buy their next meal,” Wills said. “So, they have to make hard choices — hard choices about whether to pay the rent or to buy groceries for their children.”
Wills also said that of those one in five who are food insecure, one in four of them are children.
During the past fiscal year, according to Wills, the food bank served 26,892 households in the county and 50,572 individuals, with 44 percent of that number being children or senior citizens.
Councilman Doug Mercer questioned the 50,572 figure, saying it’s larger than the county’s population, which is about 45,000 people. Wills said the number reflected individual meals served, noting that some people received multiple meals.
“You’re touching them more than once,” said Mayor Archie Jennings.
Wills said the food bank is working to provide more healthful food options to its clients.
“We trying to lean more toward a fresh product so people get a little bit healthier choices and better choices. We know childhood obesity is at a very high level right now. We understand that. We are trying to encourage people to eat better foods as we go along with this,” Wills said.
Half of the food bank’s support comes in the form of “donated product” and 20 percent of its funding comes from federal and state dollars, Wills said.
“So, it’s very important that the regular, general public does things like food drives, donates to us and these types of (activities),” Wills said.
Councilman Bobby Roberson responded to Wills’ information.
“Obviously, there’s a gap between your program and what we have through the Beaufort County (Department of Social Services) in terms of its nutrition program,” he said. “Can you explain why people are not getting qualified under that (food stamp) program?”
“Well, sometimes it’s both. When you have people that are that low below the poverty level, they have a tendency to need both services. The food pantries are mainly considered emergency services, so we’re going to get them to that next paycheck,” Wills said, “whether it’s waiting for their food stamps to arrive, their Social Security check to come by, whether it’s the end of the month or they just lost their job — whatever the situation may be.”
Jennings told Wills the city appreciates the work the food bank is doing.
“We’ll do anything we can to help your efforts,” he said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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