Generosity Feeds Haywood: Volunteers package 11,000 meals for homeless students

It was a sight to behold — more than 200 volunteers of all ages coming together on a cold Saturday morning in December to ensure the youth of Haywood County don’t go hungry. 

Those volunteers packaged 11,000 meals in under an hour, setting a new record for the Generosity Feeds program. 

Rise Against Hunger: Junaluska Elementary students help feed the hungry

Random Act of Kindness Week at Junaluska Elementary School culminated on Friday when students and community volunteers gathered in the school gymnasium with the goal of packing 30,000 meals for the hungry. 

This must be the place: ‘I been a workin’ man dang near all my life…’

“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)

Conference digs toward the root of hunger in WNC

fr gleaningSharing 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.

From a mustard seed: Churches get gardening to fight hometown hunger

coverJune 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.

SEE ALSO: Conference digs toward the root of hunger in WNC 

“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.

Hike against hunger: Whittier man hikes A.T. to celebrate 65th birthday, raise money for food pantry

out frHiking 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.”

Students food insecure as school starts

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)

Volunteers glean picked-over fields to feed the hungry

fr gleaningAt 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. 

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.

More working poor using food pantries to get by

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.

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