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Originally published: 2013-07-02 14:55:31
Last modified: 2013-07-02 14:55:31

Summer vacation or sustenance?

by Sherrie Norris

For many families in Watauga County this summer, planning a vacation -- even for a day or two -- has taken a backseat to keeping their children fed. 

That's the big picture, said Compton Fortuna, director of the Hunger and Health Coalition in Boone, who is hearing from moms and dads every day that there isn't enough money to make ends meet, let alone plan a week at the beach.

"With the rising cost of food and fuel, we are all aware that a dollar doesn't buy as much as it used to," she said. "Local families find that their limited income doesn't stretch quite as far as it did in the past. After paying for housing, utilities and the other basic necessities, there is not enough left for food." 

Many families in the area turn to the Hunger and Health Coalition in their time of need -- and the needs are especially great during this time of year, Fortuna said.

"We cannot forget that many of our children benefit from free breakfast and lunch programs during the school year," she said. "With children out of school for several weeks during the summer, families face an even greater demand on their tight (food) budgets."

And, the problem trickles down quickly. 

Unfortunately, Fortuna said, at the same time, donations of food and funding have decreased, while the need for help continues to grow. 

"Without the support of our community, we cannot meet the increasing demands that we receive daily to help feed these children," she said.

In an average month, the food pantry at the HHC serves more than 570 children, Fortuna said. Those numbers began to rise significantly when the school year ended, but the good news is that for every dollar contributed, the organization is able to purchase $7 worth of food. 

To simplify the equation, Fortuna said, a contribution of $100 could feed 10 families for one week.

While they are more than happy to accept gifts of food, Fortuna said, a dollar goes a long way through the agency's resources, especially the Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem, from where the bulk of food is purchased at a reduced rate. 

While school might be back in session when local gardens are at their most productive, Fortuna said that fresh produce is always welcome and a way to ensure that families receive nutritional fruits and vegetables in season.  

"We are always grateful for those who donate surplus produce from their harvest and our clients are very appreciative of the extra effort it takes," she said. 



National epidemic

According to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, an estimated 21 million children participated in the free- or reduced-priced school meal program in 2011, but just more than 2 million children received meals during the summer months, largely due to the lack of local programs. 

In 2011, America's households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children -- 20.6 percent compared to 12.2 percent.

Also in 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children. 

Households with higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included homes with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent) .

Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 5 percent in Steele County, N.D., to a high of 37 percent in Holmes County, Miss.

From 2009 to 2011, North Carolina was among seven states that exhibited homes with significantly higher food-insecurity rates, at 17.1 percent, than the U.S. national average of 14.7 percent.

Others included Mississippi (19.2 percent), Texas (18.5 percent), Arkansas (19.2 percent), Alabama (17.4 percent); Georgia (17.4 percent) and Florida (16.2 percent).



Emergency food assistance and federal programs

In 2011, 5.1 percent of U.S. households (6.1 million) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times; 57.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. 



Give locally

"Thanks to the support of our donors, the HHC is able to provide food to local families in need. Please help us keep food in the (food) pantry, so when families need food, we can provide," Fortuna said. 

To help meet the nutritional needs of children in Watauga County during the summer months, drop by with your food donations or send your monetary tax-deductible gifts to The Hunger and Health Coalition at 141 Health Center Dr.  Boone, NC 28607. For more information, call (828) 262-1628 or visit http://www.hungercoalition.com.