Food Bank addresses rising need

Kay Carter
Kay Carter

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina distributed 29.3 million pounds of food in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, up 15 percent from the previous year.

Yet the food bank, which teams with nearly 650 partner agencies serving 14 counties in North Carolina and five in South Carolina, could not keep up with demand, which grew 40 percent.

“Our food donations have not gone down,” says Kay Carter, the agency’s executive director. “But they have not gone up at a level that is meeting the needs.”

To address the rising demand for food generated by the recession, particularly the need to feed children whose parents may have lost jobs, the food bank has stepped up its efforts to purchase food, raise money, and work with its partner agencies.

In the past year, for example, food purchased by the food bank totaled roughly six percent to seven percent of all the food it distributed, up from roughly one percent to two percent the previous year and representing the biggest share of distributed food the agency ever has purchased.

“We purposely directed our grant-application efforts towards food purchases,” Carter says.

And for the first time ever, in addition to distributing food to its partner agencies, the food bank last April through September distributed food to thousands of individuals.

To better address the needs of hungry children, the food bank teamed with partner agencies to offer new programs.

At the request of A Child’s Place, which serves homeless children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, the food bank provided pantry bags for parents whose kids were out of school for extended periods of time, such as spring break and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

And it provided snacks for low-income elementary-school children served by the Assistance League at a lower cost than that agency otherwise would have had to pay for the snacks.

Formed in 1981, the food bank operates with an annual budget of $6 million and a staff of 30 employees and counts on over 52,000 volunteer hours, or the equivalent of another 25 fulltime positions.

The food bank receives an estimated $40 million worth of contributed food a year and spends only three percent of its operating budget on overhead.

“Ninety-seven percent of our money goes into programs,” Carter says.

And in the face of the economic crisis, she says, “we’ve tried to plow as much money as we possibly can into critical needs,” particularly child hunger.

To meet rising demand for food, the food bank has become more aggressive about looking for food donations.

“There’s more urgency about it because we know there’s so much more need out there,” Carter says.

A key strategy has been to provide customer-service training for the entire staff.

“Everyone on our staff looks for food and looks for money,” she says. “We have conversations at every level of our organization about how to work with donors, taking good care of donors, making sure those donations keep coming.”

Employees who drive the agency’s trucks, for example, “see our donors every single day,” Carter says. “We want everybody to understand our mission.”

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