“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing. As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)
Sharing food can be a simple thing. Like passing a bag of trail mix to the hiking buddy who forgot to pack lunch, or ladling an extra bowl of chili for the neighbor who stopped by at dinnertime.
June Johnson’s foray into the world of gardening began in the dead of winter. A sunny January day last year inspired her to venture outside, and her walk brought her to the path behind Maggie Valley United Methodist Church and the grassy lawn surrounding it. The sight made her pause.
“Having grown up around farming, I thought, ‘Why don’t they have a church garden?’ and roamed into the back of the church,” recalled Johnson, a retired teacher and native of Haywood County.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail had been in the back of Andy Smith’s mind for a while, ever since a coworker at Cherokee Hospital, where he was chief of physical therapy, told Smith about his 1989 thru hike. As 2014 dawned, Smith was 15 years retired and approaching his 65th birthday. He got to thinking that maybe it was time to try a thru hike.
“I really didn’t have a solid reason,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like a long-term goal that I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s something that’s been of interest, so I decided to do it.”
As children return to school this week, the joy of seeing their friends, sharing summer stories, wearing new shoes or clothes and hearing the laughter ring though the hallways of Haywood County Schools is all too familiar. However, this joyous time is overshadowed for many children, as they fear going hungry on the evenings and weekends.
According to a recent Map the Meal Gap Study, 28.2 percent — 3,240 children in Haywood County — are “Food Insecure.” This means those children live in households facing difficulty meeting basic food needs. Over half of the children attending school in Haywood County are on free or reduced lunch. For many, this is the only source of food all week.
Food insecurity in Haywood has become epidemic, and teachers and counselors have discovered that students are having trouble learning; their attention span is short; and their focus is on food rather than school. That’s why the Waynesville Rotary Club stepped forward to help fight this issue.
“It hurts in your heart to know that children are going hungry,” said Brandon Anderson, past president of the Waynesville Rotary Club. “We refuse to deny these children what they need, and the need is great. Children cannot learn when they are hungry.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, The Waynesville Rotary Club began an ambitious campaign they call Haywood’s Hungry Kids. This program developed out of a pilot program in Haywood County Schools in partnership with MANNA Food Bank where a qualifying child would receive a packaged meal to take home each Friday so they would have some nutrition over the weekend.
Due to lack of funding the program was to be cut, being able to serve only 267 children out of the 3,200 in need. Through the efforts of many generous people, organizations, civic clubs and churches, last year Haywood’s Hungry Kids was a great success. The program did not die and, in fact, increased by 50 percent, serving 387 students last year. In addition, The Waynesville Rotary Club Foundation funded a pilot program this summer with the help of MANNA Food Bank and was successful in feeding 107 children each week for 10 weeks.
“While last school year was a success, we have begun another year, another challenge, and we need donations and volunteers to insure the success of the program this year,” said Anderson. “This is not something that is just going to go away. The last thing we want to do is reduce the size of the program or have to cancel the program due to funding. Our children are counting on us.”
Currently, Haywood’s Hungry Kids — through the Waynesville Rotary Club Foundation — is in receipt of donations that will insure the 387 children participating in the program last year will receive food bags each week through mid-fall. “We need help,” said Anderson.
The Waynesville Rotary Foundation has several fundraisers planned throughout the year to attempt to sustain and grow the current program. A $128 donation will support one child for the entire school year in the MANNA Food Packs Program, but all donations of any amount are accepted and appreciated. All donations to Help Haywood’s Hungry Kids are tax-deductible and benefit the children of Haywood County directly. Checks can be made out to the Waynesville Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 988, Waynesville, N.C., 28786. For further questions about the program or to volunteer call 828.452.1288.
(Submitted by the Waynesville Rotary Club)
At the end of every crop’s season, farmers pick the fruits or vegetables that are pretty enough to sell in the grocery store. Once they are done, they plow under the leftover produce.
Business, civic and government leaders from all over Haywood County gathered last week to officially kick off Hunger Free Haywood, a countywide effort to address hunger.
All the collections will stay in Haywood County and be distributed by county food pantries.
A clean-cut looking Perry Matthews walked into the food pantry with a smile on his face. He wore a crisp, light blue, long sleeve button-up and tan slacks. His long, dark hair was pulled into a neat ponytail.
It is easy to mistake him for one of the volunteers who prepares meals or packs boxes with food. But Matthews, a 26-year-old employed chef and cooking teacher, is part of a new demographic of working poor in Western North Carolina.
Six months ago after finding himself struggling, Matthews started picking up food boxes from The Community Table in Sylva.
“Times got hard, and it’s everything I can do to get my rent and bills together,” Matthews said. “The electric bill was taking up way too much.”
For Matthews, meals have become a regular community event. His neighbors also frequent the Community Table for donations. Then they pool their food and cook meals that they all share together.
Matthews is not embarrassed to admit he needs help and suggests that others who are scrambling to pay their bills visit the pantry as well.
“You’re hungry, and they’re giving food. It’s plain and simple,” said Matthews, who is one of 17.7 percent of Jackson residents who in 2011 did not have continuous access to food.
Some first-time visitors are ashamed to come to a food pantry because of the stigma associated with it.
“Poverty has such a stigma, and a lot of people have the ‘blame the victim’ mentality,” said Amy Grimes, director of the Community Table. “There are so many factors beyond people’s control.”
So, the Community Table tries to create a happy, community atmosphere, where people can sit and socialize while waiting for food or collecting their food boxes.
“(People) probably think it’s a sad, downtrodden kind of place. No,” Grimes said. “It’s much more dignified.”
The new visitors are not part of the generational poverty cycle but rather lost their job or face unexpected costs.
“We are seeing a lot more situational poverty,” Grimes said. “People have a medical issue come up, and it turns their entire life upside down.”
Although many people enjoy the three-month summer that a job at a school affords, Martina Maldonado would rather work. Every year when Western Carolina University’s campus essentially closes down, Maldonado, a cook at the college, is unemployed and must used food pantries to compensate for the lack of income.
“Any holiday they close, it happens,” said Maldonado, a Spanish woman whose daughter-in-law translates for her.
Their number one customer, however, is still elderly people and mentally challenged individuals, who are usually both on fixed incomes.
The Community Table used to grow busier toward the end of the month when people’s food stamps ran out but now stays busy throughout since the federal government began staggering its food stamp release. Some people get food stamps at the beginning of the month, and others receive them in the middle or end of the month.
“We are just busy all the time now,” Grimes said.
Counties in Western North Carolina have seen dramatic increases in the number of people who need food assistance — either from the government in the form of welfare or from local food pantries.
The number of people on food stamps in Haywood, Macon and Swain counties has increased by more than 40 percent over the past four years.
Foods stamps only go so far, however, so churches, charities and community groups have stepped up to the plate to help feed the hungry.
MANNA food bank serves as the region’s major clearinghouse for food for more than 250 food pantries across Western North Carolina. MANNA collects food and money and distributes it among its member pantries, and as a collective, the pantries have an easier time obtaining government funding.
“It’s a great program,” said Alice Fisher, a board member of another food pantry, The Community Kitchen in Canton. “We couldn’t continue if we didn’t have that support from MANNA.”
The Community Kitchen started in the mid-2000s, and leaders decided to serve dinner since the Open Door Soup Kitchen in Waynesville already offered breakfast and lunch. The pantry also hoped to fill a niche in Canton since Waynesville can be a far daily trek for people without a car or even those on a tight budget, said Beverly Brock, director of The Community Kitchen.
“Waynesville has a soup kitchen, and it’s a good one, but it’s quite a bit of gas to get a meal,” Brock said.
The Community Kitchen sees pretty much every demographic flow in and out of its home on Pisgah Drive.
“It’s the whole gamut — we’ve got elderly, we’ve got disabled, we’ve got multiple generations in one household,” Brock said, adding that they also see grandparents trying to raise their grandchildren on fixed incomes.
And, the number of people they see each week depends on what is happening in an individual’s life.
“It flows with how their bills go this week. Every hiccup can make a big impact,” Brock said. “What we do is just help sustain them.”
The pantry typically goes through 5,000 pounds of food each month, which is about one-third more business than The Community Kitchen did in year’s past.
MANNA as a whole distributed almost 10 million pounds of food last year and still does not meet demand, said Alissa Hixson, a spokeswoman for MANNA food bank.
“As soon as the economy went under, everything changed,” said Amy Grimes, director of the Community Table in Sylva.
The Community Table, which typically made 25 to 40 meals each weekday, now makes 80 to 100. The pantry is closed Saturday and Sundays.
“The need is going up like crazy,” Grimes said. “We are seeing new people every week.”
Pantries are seeing more families come for food, though some college-educated individuals are also visiting the food pantries.
At least 30 percent of the children in Western North Carolina don’t have adequate access to food, according to MANNA food bank. The MANNA backpack program helps to ease that burden by delivering 5-pound bags of food to schools on Fridays and sending them home with children in needy families.
“Those families are struggling over the weekend because the kids do not have a free meal at school,” said Emily Paris, program services coordinator at MANNA.
It serves 3,800 children a week during the school year. But, it’s not nearly enough to meet the needs of all the hungry kids.
Although MANNA does its own fundraising for the program, the Waynesville Rotary Club has decided to make the backpack program its pet project year-round, collecting donations that will go to children in Haywood County in hopes of expanding the program. The Rotary club is accepting checks, but people can also donate by tacking a nominal amount onto their bill when eating at Waynesville restaurants.
As of last week, the club had raised more than $20,000 — all of which will stay in Haywood County, emphasized Brandon Anderson, president of the Waynesville Rotary Club.
“We are excited,” Anderson said. “I am pretty confident that it is going to explode from there.”
Haywood: 16 percent
Macon: 16.9 percent
Jackson: 17.7 percent
Swain: 19.9 percent
Data for 2011, provided by MANNA foodbank
Giving to MANNA food bank or an individual pantry is simple. Call or stop-by or simply mail in a check or ask to volunteer. Check out www.mannafoodbank.org for specific information about food pantries and soup kitchens in your area.
Other ways to give include:
• The Community Kitchen in Canton is hosting a golf fund-raiser at Lake Junaluska at noon on June 1. Teams are four-person, captain’s choice. Entry fees are $50 per person. 828.593.9319.
• The Open Door Ministries is hosting a Bike Run will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 9. The fund-raiser, hosted by The Carolina Faith Riders, will raise awareness and money for the soup kitchen and thrift store in Waynesville. Registration is from 9-10:45 a.m. There is a $15 per bike entry fee. The route will be from The Open Door, through downtown Waynesville to N.C. 276, across the Blue Ridge Parkway, down Soco, through Maggie. The Bike Run will conclude at Dellwood Baptist Church at 12:30 p.m. with music on the lawn and a lunch. 828.926.3846.
• The last Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Community Table hosts a blue plate special fund-raiser. A local restaurant donates lunch, which the pantry offers for a minimum $5 donation. Call ahead for a takeout order, or eat at the pantry. 828.586.6782.
• From June 15-July 15, businesses and organizations in Haywood County will be accepting food that will then be directly distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the county. The goal is to collect 50,000 pounds of food. Look for red donation barrels outside businesses or call the Chamber of Commerce for a list of locations. Those wishing to make a monetary donation should stop by any Haywood County BB&T. 828.456.3021.
• The Dillsboro River Company will offer free rafts for unguided trips down the Tuckasegee River from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 3 in exchange for10 cans of food per person that will be donated to United Christian Ministries of Jackson County. 866.586.3797.
• Duckett’s Produce in Maggie Valley is collecting food donations. The donations are then taken to the Maggie Valley Methodist Church where those in need are free to pick up food.
Suitcase in hand, freshman Jared Conrad was ready to move into his box and prepare for the night to come.
The day was plagued with off and on rain — a concern for Conrad and other Tuscola High School students who would later spend the night out in the elements with little more than a cardboard box and a sleeping bag to protect them.
The Waynesville high school’s SWAT, or Students Will Achieve Together, team has held the event, which raises money and awareness for the homeless and poor, for four years.
The team raised about $2,500 this year, said teacher Cindy Shipman, the event’s coordinator. All the proceeds go toward the “Share the Warmth” program, which helps those who cannot afford to pay their electric bill.
“I needed something crazy to do to help people,” Shipman said jokingly.
This year, the boxes were decorated with business names, including Burger King, Wal-mart, the Maggie Valley Club and Waffle House — which were among more than 30 businesses to donate money or food to the event.
The renovated boxes provide shelter for the students as they tell stories, roast marshmallows and, if they are lucky, sleep. While most of the makeshift homes were simple, some students taped two boxes together for a roomier feel; one was complete with a hanging lamp and skylight; and another was painted to look like a castle.
Freshmen Faith Jaynes and Brittney Webb said they were nervous but would have fun no matter what.
“I know how it is to be cold and stuff, but I don’t know how it is to be homeless,” Jaynes said.
The night was part of an area effort to keep the disadvantaged warm and fed during the winter months.
Earlier this month, students and fans donated canned goods in honor of their favorite team at the Pisgah-Tuscola football game. Pisgah collected 2,746 lbs, and Tuscola donated 4,301 lbs.
“It makes you feel better more and more each year,” said junior Jenny West, who has participated for the past three years.
Like many of her fellow students, West said she enjoys helping people. However, teacher Deb Wright thinks the students participate because of something more.
“I think it is the novelty of the thing,” Wright said.
And, although Shipman was concerned the rain might sully their boxes, the sky remained relatively clear and throughout the night temperatures ranged from 52 to 55 degrees — not nearly as cold as a previous year when it snowed.