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Hunger Free Haywood takes front row approach to food drive

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.

“Give it local and keep it local,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.

This is the first food drive of its kind, with people from all across the county banding together in one big effort, and organizers hope to make it more than just a one-time event. The goal is to raise 50,000 pounds of food by July 15.

“Next time you go shopping, pick up something extra,” Smith said.

Mark Swanger, chair of the Haywood Board of Commissioners, said he is confident that they can meet the goal.

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“When our citizens are made aware of the problem, of the need, they will step up,” Swanger said.

Hunger Free Haywood also aims to raise awareness for the needy in the county. People may not realize how many people experience hunger throughout the year.

“Hunger is a problem in Haywood County,” Swanger said. “Sometimes, it can fly under the radar a little bit.”

Almost 30 percent of children in Haywood County and 16 percent of Haywood residents overall need food assistance during the year.

“(Hunger) is particularly harmful and hurtful to children,” said Joe Sam Queen, a Waynesville businessman and state politician.

In 2011, MANNA Food Bank distributed more than 600,000 pounds to 23 of its partner agencies in Haywood County. But, agencies still struggled to meet the growing need for food in the county.

“With this economic climate, it is really hard to get the level of donating you need,” said Cindy Threlkeld, executive director of MANNA Food Bank.

To give, just look out for the red barrels posted outside or inside area businesses and organizations. They will be accepting food staples, which will then be distributed directly to the local food pantries and soup kitchens in Haywood County. Most needed items include canned meats, vegetables and fruits, dried or canned beans, box meals, juice, peanut butter, hearty soups, dry milk, cereals and grains.

If you would prefer to make a monetary donation, stop by any Haywood County BB&T location for additional information.

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