By Brittany Maiava
It’s coming up on that time of year again. A time when we think of family and friends, with those we have lost touch with and our hopes for the year to come. It is also a time when we reflect on ourselves and the way that we live our lives. For some of us, this reflection brings about a sense of satisfaction and pride, for others maybe a motivation to make some much needed changes. Most of all (if we are lucky) this time of year makes us thankful for all of the blessings that have become apparent in our lives and we begin to worry for those who may not be so fortunate.
How many of us use the approaching holiday season to help our fellow man and sign up to volunteer at local charities or participate in fundraising events? It may be the only time of year when people think of others to the point where they feel so compelled to lend their time and efforts in order to improve someone else’s quality of life while getting nothing tangible in return. It may mean donating a gift to go underneath, what would have been an empty tree or donating the tree itself or giving a can of vegetables to a local food drive intent on putting a holiday meal on the tables of everyone in their community. In whichever form it manifests itself, it is, for all intents and purposes a season of giving. While this is admirable and undeniably generous, something is to be said about those individuals and organizations who feel this need and work to improve lives all year round and for many years at that. One such organization is the Second Harvest Food Bank of Fayetteville, a non-profit that works tirelessly to address the issue of hunger in our community.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast North Carolina is affiliated with Action Pathways, formerly known as the Cumberland Community Action Program or CCAP and is a member of Feeding America who provided a report that showed that as of 2015, 1 in 6 North Carolinians depend on their food bank for food. Second Harvest has partnerships with over 250 hunger relief charities and provides assistance to seven counties; Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Bladen, Robeson, Sampson and Duplin. This food bank collects, organizes and distributes food to hunger relief agencies. Their resources for food come from a wide variety of sources. These include retail or grocery stores who donate food which would otherwise go unsold, thrown away or be sent back to the manufacturer for disposal. You know that dented bottle of ketchup that you moved aside to get to a shapelier bottle in the back? That, along with other “perfectly-imperfect” merchandise, get packaged up and sent to Second Harvest and other food banks. Also sent along are foods that are approaching their expiration dates. Most consumers would prefer to purchase food items with an expiration date that is furthest away from the date that they are purchasing and so foods with a looming expiration date are often left behind.
Second Harvest has the resources to turn around these products at a fast rate so that the item may end up on the table of someone in need before that date even approaches. What many consumers don’t know is that the date printed on the package is not necessarily the date that the item will go bad and be unsafe to eat and these “use-by” dates are leading to millions of pounds of wasted food. Most often this date represents the peak freshness of an item and most food items taste the same and are safe to consume long after. For example, though the expiration date on a carton of eggs says use by today, in actuality those eggs remain safe to eat for another three to five weeks! But because many Americans are confused over these lightly regulated dates and terms, most of these foods end up going to waste unless an organization like Second Harvest steps in.
Additional sources include a combination of USDA commodities, federal government distributions, state grant money, manufacturers like Campbell Soup, farmers (where as much as $151 million pounds of surplus produce are just sitting there unused) and community support. According to Action Pathways, in 2014 Second Harvest donated the equivalent of 8.7 million meals through these resources.
Jim Thomas is the new director at Second Harvest Food Bank and was brought to Fayetteville for the sole purpose of filling that position and coming up with new and innovative ways to increase their outreach to our community. His role at the food bank encompasses everything from the day-to-day operations of the food bank, like the physical moving around of products, to maintaining agency relations, to providing the best environment and training for his employees and volunteers. According to Thomas, “Fayetteville isn’t really different from anywhere else; the need is there and there is always a way to do it better.” In our area alone it would take $850 million to meet food needs. On a national level it would take 24 billion dollars.
Did you know that 27 percent of children in the area are food insecure? Many of these children depend on free or reduced meal plans through their school as their only opportunity for a hot meal. Second Harvest wants kids to go to school ready to learn not looking for food.
Thomas, who has been described as coming to work every day with a smile on his face genuinely excited to get to work, believes that we live in a country with the resources and capability to solve the problem of hunger. One of the reasons that this problem still exists is because of this misconception that these individuals are just sitting around and milking the situation. While there may indeed be individuals like this, the vast majority, according to Thomas, are out there “working and trying” to make ends meet. “There is this stereotype that these people just don’t work,” said Thomas. But it’s a gap that Second Harvest and its partners attempt to bridge. The gap left behind when hard working people are still unable to afford to put nutritious food on the table.
Second Harvest Food Bank serves as just one piece of the pie when it comes to the fight against hunger. Other programs such as the State Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the Backpack Program which sends kids home from school with enough food for the weekend and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which works to gather and distribute surplus food from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to low-income families and individuals all work alongside Second Harvest to end hunger in our community. Of course, the best contribution is from volunteers. At any given time at the food bank, half the staff is made up of volunteers who sort the incoming product, help with distribution and work in the office. Jodi Phelps, the agency advancement director, believes that at Second Harvest, volunteers and donators can “rest assured that this is a place where put resources to best use and where your time and money go directly to the cause.”
On the subject of future plans regarding Second Harvest’s community outreach, Phelps said they are always looking to increase their level of contribution. "We want to make sure that we hit all places in need and we want to be able to service counties that may not have access to every service."
Second Harvest serves as an important component in the quest to eradicate the rising problem of hunger. Where smaller scale soup kitchens, pantries and charities operating out of churches lack the infrastructure to receive and store very large quantities of produce, Second Harvest and other member food banks step in to provide a larger centralized location where each of these organizations can come and pick up everything that they need and when they need it. These partner hunger relief agencies help to sustain the functionality of such a necessary facility by the way of a shared contributed fee of up-to 19 cents per pound of produce that they pick up and which goes directly to the maintaining of the massive refrigerators, coolers, freezers and storage space capable of handling the larger scale donations that, without such a space would have nowhere else to go. Jim calculated that Cumberland County had one of the areas highest contribution fees with a monthly average of about six cents per pound serving as their partners shared contribution. This contribution fee is raised through fundraising and grants that the individual agencies conduct and receive and makes up to about 17 percent of the cost associated with maintaining the food bank. Roughly 80 percent of these costs are raised through the food bank itself by fundraising, grants and direct mail appeals.
For those convinced that The Second Harvest Food Bank is the right place to donate your time this holiday season, they will be working to obtain additional protein such as turkeys and hams as well as other traditional holiday staples to distribute to their partner charities in order to help create a complete holiday meal for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it and they are more than welcoming to anyone who wants to contribute a a "piece to the pie."
Second Harvest Food Bank is located at 406 Deep Creek Road in Fayetteville and can be reached at 910.485.6923.