By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — As a result of Hurricane Floyd, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina distributed nearly 19 million pounds of food in 1999, up from just over 10 million pounds the previous year.
The natural disaster, which devastated much of largely rural and poor Eastern North Carolina, also prompted the Food Bank to start thinking about the need to move beyond just distributing food and play a bigger role in addressing issues related to poverty in the 34 counties it serves.
Starting in 2001, with four grants over four years from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, the Food Bank launched and developed “hunger councils” to “start talking about other things that matter,” says Jane Cox, the agency’s executive director.
Based on what it learned, the Food Bank has taken on the role of brokering community relationships to build “social capital” in the region and promote both the wellness of children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, and the health of the general population.
“Agencies ask us to help raise more money, get more food in communities, and be a collective voice on behalf of the poor and underserved,” Cox says
In the Wilmington area, for example, the Food Bank launched a pilot project to make sure people with diabetes have access to nutritious food between visits to their physician.
Based on consultation with a nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary and with physicians, the Food Bank now distributes food geared to the needs of diabetics.
Through a separate partnership with the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Food Bank is working with dentists who volunteer to provide care throughout the region using a dental bus donated by the Baptist Men’s Association in Snow Hill.
The dental bus, for example, offered dental screenings last September to clients of the food pantries at Divine Grace United Holy Church and The Annointed Ones Ministry, both in Pitt County.
And the hunger councils, which now are called “talking councils” and have been formed in most of the counties the Food Bank serves, continue to meet to identify critical needs and talk about possible ways to address them.
“We are much stronger collectively than we are individually,” Cox says.