RALEIGH, N.C. — Demand from hungry people for food is rising in North Carolina.
In its fiscal year ended June 30, Food Bank of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City distributed 4.4 million pounds of food to 108 agencies serving over 200,000 hungry individuals in 15 counties in northeastern North Carolina, or 16 percent more hungry people than in the previous year.
In 2009, North Carolina’s seven Feeding America food banks together delivered 80 million pounds of food distributed through their 2,700 partner agencies such as emergency shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens, to over 1.4 million people, or nearly one in eight North Carolinians.
Yet North Carolina, with one in four children needing food assistance, is tied with Louisiana among all states and the District of Columbia for the most children under age five in need of food assistance.
“That’s not how we see ourselves in North Carolina,” says Alan Briggs, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks. “It’s just not acceptable.”
Formed this summer and housed at the offices of the Raleigh-based Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, the association aims to develop statewide food and fund drives, help secure government support, and raise awareness about hunger in the state and the role the food banks play.
“We can work within our network of food banks and agencies to really engage the public about hunger, what the need is across North Carolina, and how people can get involved,” says Liz Reasoner, chair of the new association’s board and executive director of Food Bank of the Albermarle.
Members of the association include all the food banks in the state, including the Raleigh-based Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing an interest from funders to want to do activities collectively statewide,” says Briggs, who recently worked as a consultant for land-conservation groups after serving as manager of southeastern regional operations in seven southern states for the Trust for Public Land.
For the Sept. 10-12 weekend commemorating 9/11, for example, Gov. Beverly Perdue encouraged all North Carolinians to volunteer, organize a food drive or donate to a local food bank.
Last year, Briggs says, the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service approached individual food banks about partnering on a statewide food drive on 9/11, but the food banks lacked a statewide presence and the lead time needed to handle the effort.
This year, however, when the commission approached the new association about a statewide drive, it was precisely the type of initiative the association was formed to take on, Briggs says.
“We are hoping to enhance what local food banks do,” he says.
The association was not created to get into the business of collecting, warehousing and distributing food, which is the work of its member food banks, but rather to serve as their “promoter and voice,” Briggs says.
The association will organize a food drive Oct. 14-24 at the State Fair in Raleigh, and will partner with the North Carolina Bar Association for a statewide drive in February or March.
The new group hopes to launch a website this fall so it can reach a wider audience, says Briggs, who will be focusing on public-speaking, seeking partners and building awareness.
Each week, members of the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks provide food assistance for over 170,000 people, the equivalent of the current enrollment of all 16 colleges and universities in the University of North Carolina system, plus Duke, Davidson and Wake Forest universities, Briggs says.
And the demand for food among hungry people throughout the U.S. has grown 46 percent since 2006, he says.
“People still don’t realize,” he says, “how huge this problem is.”