By Emily Kraft, Nutrition Services Outreach Coordinator in Wilmington
In my job, I meet, talk to, and help people every day. Seniors, parents, students, people between jobs or those trying to hold down three different jobs. I meet them because I want to help them apply to receive some extra money to buy food. The people I help need this extra bump in their grocery budget so they can keep a roof over their head, purchase costly medicine, or feed their children. It is a gratifying job, but can also be difficult. It breaks my heart to see parents working hard at their job, yet still having to forego their own meals to make sure their children aren’t sent to bed hungry.
In North Carolina, the average monthly Food & Nutrition Services benefit is only $126.30 per person per month. These benefits are intended to supplement a person’s budget. But for many of the low-income people who receive FNS benefits, this extra money is the only money they have for groceries for the entire month.
“Before I began receiving my retirement benefits, I used the Food Stamp program to make ends meet, but without health insurance, I avoided doctors, compounding any health issues that I did have. By the time I was eligible for Social Security and Medicare, my health had worsened rapidly, and most of my income went toward prescriptions and office visit co-pays. Reapplying for Food Stamps was the only way I could feed myself and maintain my level of health – even if I still wasn’t feeling well.”
–Faith, a senior in Burgaw, NC
With a network of more than 800 community partners that help us provide food to those that need it most, we are able to serve thousands of households every week. But these food pantries and soup kitchens in our network, while vital to our efforts, are not the first line of defense against hunger. They’re the last resort.
Our mission is “No One Goes Hungry in Central & Eastern North Carolina,” and to that end, we distribute food to emergency food assistance centers which then provide the food to people in the community. Food pantries represent a critical part of the hunger relief network, but they are never meant to be a long-term solution to hunger. They help folks through a rough patch, providing enough food to get them through a few days.
But hunger has become such an epidemic that those rough patches seem to never end for so many people in our region and across the country. Food insecurity has become a chronic reality for over half a million people in our service area, and to truly fulfill our mission, we must employ a comprehensive and sustainable approach to solve hunger.
One of our approaches is Three Squares for CENC, our Food and Nutrition Services Outreach Program. Three Squares for CENC is made up of four team members based in different parts of our service area. This team pounds the pavement and calls thousands of people to help connect hungry North Carolinians to the Food & Nutrition Services program. By removing barriers such as time, transportation, and stigma, our Outreach Coordinators bring the FNS application process into the community in person or over the phone, gradually giving families confidence and more financial stability. With more time to listen to personal stories, look at pictures of family members, or simply answer questions, we give our clients peace of mind by taking one burden off of their shoulders.
People like Faith rely on the Food Bank not only for food but for their compassion and understanding. To understand what it feels like to be hungry and make difficult choices like Faith, the Three Squares team encourages you to take our 2015 Hunger Challenge from Sunday September 20th – Saturday, September 26th and live on $4.21 per person per day for seven days. That’s a weekly food budget of $29.47 per person for food and drinks. While those of us who can intentionally take this challenge will never feel the full effects of hunger, it can give us a better understanding of what it’s like to be in the shoes of those we serve.
To register for this year’s challenge, visit www.foodbankcenc.org/HungerChallenge
If you would like to learn more about Three Squares for CENC, visit our website or call 1-800-358-8189.