Jill Warren Lucas
Those who work to end hunger in America know that one in five children face daily uncertainty about their next meal. In Wilmington, N.C., and throughout coastal New Hanover County, the rate is believed to be even higher.
“I think that’s a very low estimate. I would say it’s more like one in three,” says Kim Karslake, CEO of Nourish NC, a nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen community resources to connect children to healthy food and reduce food insecurity.
In an effort to address local needs, Nourish NC is among the local organizations supporting Cape Fear Volunteer Center‘s (CFVC) partnership with the national generationOn initiative, What Will You Bring to the Table? An event, free and open to the public, will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Hugh McRae Park, 1799 S. College Road, Wilmington.
CFVC Executive Director Annie Anthony believes that hunger is a community problem best addressed by a community solution. “Just by showing up, people will make a difference,” says Anthony, explaining that the number of participants will be reported to generationOn, which will provide an equal number of meals for at-risk children across America.
Visitors are encouraged to take it a step further by bringing canned foods to restock local food pantry shelves. Anthony especially recommends this to participating families as a way to engage young children in the act of giving.
Families in the Wilmington area have been Anthony’s focus since the 1990s, when she helped to create and run the Children’s Museum of Wilmington. She hopes to foster additional awareness of hunger concerns on Saturday through a hands-on activity meant to inspire participants to consider what they put on their dinner tables, compared to those who go without.
Muralist David Clemen, who regularly donates his talent to fundraising projects, has sketched a creative design on an ordinary picnic table – the price of which was discounted when the local Home Depot manager learned about the campaign.
“David will sketch a design about local crops and coastal seafood,” explains Anthony. “We will block each section off and the public will get to walk up and paint a piece of it. I can tell you from previous experience, the people who participate feel very fulfilled by doing this.”
Anthony says the table will be displayed later at a local nonprofit to remind citizens of the ongoing need to help feed vulnerable families and individuals.
Despite the evident affluence of Wilmington’s popular riverfront, Nourish NC’s Karslake says the economic downturn has been especially hard on local earners who are dependent on tourism. Some have joined the ranks of the homeless, and many more are seeking assistance for food pantries.
Karslake says that nearly half of the county public school system’s 25,594 enrolled students, a stunning 49.36 percent, qualify for National School Lunch Program, which provides free and reduced-price meals. One hundred percent of students at one K-5 school are enrolled in the program.
“Wilmington has always had a large transient population (that seeks food aid), but we’re seeing a lot more situational hunger than we used to from people who used to have good jobs,” she says. “That means our resources don’t go as far.”
CFVC will use the What
Will You Bring to the Table? event as an opportunity to empower families, and especially children, through age-appropriate activities that support community needs. For example, younger children can design posters to be displayed in the windows of the CFVC offices near the Cotton Exchange. Older youth can learn how to write letters to inform elected officials about their specific concerns.
Separate from Saturday’s event, Anthony is developing a youth-led advisory council to build leadership skills among area teens and young adults.
“We have very bright students here,” says Anthony, noting the council also will involve youth from Pender and Brunswick counties. “We have to offer them the opportunities to show the world what they have to offer.”
Members will develop practical organizational skills as they identify focus areas for service projects, as well as coordinate and implement related tasks. Some will have an opportunity to represent their peers as a member of the CFVC Board of Directors.
“If we are to truly serve youth in our community, we need their voice in the creation and execution of our strategic plan,” Anthony says. “We have hunger here, and crime and poverty, but we also are blessed with good infrastructure. By creating good outlets for the creativity of our youth, we can do a lot of good for our community.”