Aurora food shortage sparks countywide effort

Published 6:26 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016

AURORA — A countywide effort has been launched to tackle the food shortage problem in Aurora.

In the wake of the town’s loss of its only grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, in April 2015, a conversation has been sparked among various organizations, which includes possible solutions to the area’s lack of food sources.

According to Eagle’s Wings Director Ann Marie Montague, the USDA has labeled the town a food desert, meaning residents don’t have access to fresh food and produce.

“There is nothing down there,” Montague said. “Aurora, being so remote, people have to either go into Pamlico County or all the way across into Chocowinity. It is really a serious issue for anyone finding themselves living in Aurora.”

Montague said a backpack program run through the food pantry serves schools in the county, providing food for children to take home for the weekends. S.W. Snowden Elementary School in Aurora, the lowest populated school the program serves, accounts for 60 percent of the program.

Since the loss of Piggly Wiggly, town commissioners, the Aurora/Richland Chamber of Commerce and community organizers in the town have been working to find viable solutions to the lack of food sources in the area. Family Dollar and Dollar General, both of which have locations in Aurora, have been contacted with requests to expand their options to fresh meat and produce, according to Gail Phelps, director of the town’s Chamber.

Other attempts to bring chain grocery stores to the area, however, have not yet yielded any results, a fact some think is attributed to the lack of traffic in the town, according to community organizer Eve Hemby.

“We do have a couple of groups trying to reach out to local stores to get them to expand their inventory of food,” Phelps said. “Since, (the stores) have started carrying some meats. We’re trying to get (Dollar General) to expand to fruits and vegetables, also.”

Currently, the only options to access fresh food in the town and township are Eagle’s Wings mobile food pantry, which visits the area on the fourth Saturday of each month, and small food closets run by churches such as St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church. The mobile pantry is in operation thanks to Vidant Health Foundation, which subsidizes its cost through the Food Bank of the Albemarle, Montague said.

The town will also have more access to fresh produce this summer when a community garden project for students starts back up. The project is run by Be Global, a nonprofit that aids rural teens in becoming more effective leaders and gives teens a means to grow vegetables in raised-bed gardens then sell the produce, according to Vickie Jones, who heads the program for Be Global. Last year, the project sold food in Aurora every other Friday and in Edward every other Saturday.

This year, program organizers hope to expand to accommodate eight to 10 students rather than last year’s five students.

To aid in tackling the food shortage issue, Potash Corp-Aurora has donated a significant sum of money to the Aurora Chamber to renovate a building next to the Chamber building and accommodate a food pantry, according to Phelps.

Montague said in order for the food pantry to become a reality and receive the benefit of discounted food through the Food Bank of the Albemarle, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization would need to be formed or an existing nonprofit or church would have to step up to the plate to assume responsibility of the pantry’s operations, according to Montague.

“The best solution is for the people of Aurora and the Richland Township to come together to make this food pantry a reality,” Montague said. “Potash has provided a significant monetary donation to make this a viable project and is trying to get a substantial food pantry developed down there through the Chamber. I do know they are trying very hard to move forward and get it going. We’ve reached out to help them be successful in this project.

We’re waiting to hear back from the Chamber in Aurora, and we can’t wait to partner and work together with them to make this a successful venture for everyone. So if it doesn’t happen, it’s simply a downward spiral in Aurora. We’re trying very hard to have that not happen. If we can intervene as an agency, as well as a food bank, to make this a doable project, we will.”