More than 4,600 residents in Dare County don’t have access to a sufficient amount of nutritious food. Of those, 1,600 are children.
The statistics are difficult to swallow, but there are a number of organizations on the Outer Banks that work to alleviate hunger and put food on the tables of the local residents who need it. And that’s something to be thankful for, not just as the holidays and cold winter months approach, but all year round.
“To date, we are reaching a third of those residents who are food insecure,” says Beach Food Pantry Executive Director Theresa Armendarez. “The wintertime has historically been our busiest time.”
The pantry’s mission is to provide temporary or emergency assistance, but as Armendarez points out, food insecurity isn’t just a seasonal issue on the Outer Banks. For many people it’s a reality every month of the year.
An average of 300 residents come through the doors of the pantry every month, and those numbers have been increasing since the state’s food stamp requirements became more stringent in April.
So far this year, volunteers from 16 local churches have donated more than 3,000 hours to the pantry, which is located at 4007 N. Croatan Highway in Kitty Hawk. Between January 1 and September 30, the pantry distributed 28,000 pounds of nonperishable food donated by the community and 64,000 pounds of fresh produce, fruit, bread and pastries provided by Food Lion, Walmart and Fresh Market.
For the first time beginning this year, the pantry is launching a new program to help clients at the time of Thanksgiving. Armendarez says pantry volunteers will ask their church congregations to make and donate Thanksgiving bags. These bags can include gift cards for a turkey along with trimmings and other sides for a traditional holiday meal.
The pantry will distribute them to clients on November 19.
Hunger is a reality throughout northeastern North Carolina. Polly Gregory, director of the Lower Currituck Food Pantry, says there are about 260 families (800 individuals) who use the pantry every month. During the winter months, that figure swells to more than 1,000 residents who need help to get them through the winter.
The Lower Currituck Food Pantry is one of four food-assistance agencies in Currituck County. “So it’s easy to see that there’s a great need here in this small county,” Gregory says.
For the past 26 years, Roanoke Island Women’s Club has been working to ensure that Thanksgiving dinner is a meal that all Dare County residents can enjoy. The club has coordinated its Thanksgiving Basket Program with the assistance of Dare County Department Social Services. “We usually give out about 200 baskets and gift cards,” says Mary Pendill, president of the club. Each basket includes all the food necessary to make a Thanksgiving meal. Baskets are brought to the Department of Social Services building on November 21, and later that afternoon clients come to collect the baskets.
“The baskets are just overflowing with stuff,” Pendill says.
The donors are assigned an anonymous family and are given the ages of the children. “Sometimes there will be apple sauce and juices for the little ones, or toys,” Pendill says. “Participants go all out to fill these baskets. It’s nice to see what people do to take care of others in our community.”
Food for Thought, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, is another local organization aimed at reducing hunger. Celebrating its tenth year of helping hungry children and their families with meals over the weekends, it also aims to reduce academic risk.
“Thanks to the generosity of our community, we have helped feed more than 5,300 children healthy meals, building strong minds on the Outer Banks,” says Nena Teller, the program’s marketing liaison.
Currently about 557 eligible children in Dare County Schools benefit from the program.
“We don’t know the children’s names, and the school provides a list of the number of youth per school,” Teller says. Each weekend a bag goes home that includes nonperishable healthy food (two breakfasts, two lunches, two snacks and fresh fruit). Bags are packed each Thursday in Manteo.
More than 300 volunteers from 13 area churches and other areas of the community dedicate many hours to help keep the program operating.
The food-related needs of Ocracoke residents following Hurricane Matthew have spurred the community’s two churches to look at establishing a permanent food pantry on the island.
Pastor Richard Bryant of Ocracoke United Methodist Church, after recognizing that hunger was a pressing issue after the October storm, set up a voucher program for residents in need to purchase food at the Community Store. The Food Bank of the Albemarle also sent boxed meals to Ocracoke for distribution.
“We hope these endeavors are the seeds that will turn into a more permanent food pantry on the island,” Pastor Bryant says, adding that his church and the Assembly of God are looking for a location for such a pantry.
The Hatteras Island Methodist Church serves as the headquarters for a Hatteras food pantry, and they are in special need following Hurricane Matthew. Overseen by Claire and Ray Schaaf, the pantry serves residents from the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge to Hatteras village. Dare County Social Services also coordinates a Thanksgiving basket program on the island.
The Lifeline Outreach OBX in Rodanthe includes a food pantry that can provide emergency food for those in need. The pantry serves an estimated 250 people a month and does not require a voucher from the Dare County Social Services Department. The pantry, located next to Island Convenience, is a nonprofit organization that relies completely on donations. Call 252-489-0306 for more information or to donate.
Whether volunteers are stocking shelves at the food pantry, packing lunches for Food for Thought or donating to a Thanksgiving basket program, the local community clearly is committed to making sure that the people of the Outer Banks are well fed every month of the year.