Food Insecurity Worsened by Corona Virus Restrictions

The Corona Times – April 22, 2020

by Rhonda Gunter

Food insecurity, according to Feeding America, means that “1 in 8 individuals (13%) and 1 in 6 children (17%) live in homes without consistent access to adequate food for everyone to live healthy, active lives.”  In Mitchell County, the percentage of food insecure individuals may be as high as 18.8% according to the 2018 Mitchell County Community Health assessment.  For children, that percentage hits 21.6%, says Larry Davis, executive director of Shepherd’s Staff, a Mitchell County food pantry.

A high percentage of children in Mitchell County depend on the free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at their schools.  Now, of course, schools are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning those children’s access to meals has been jeopardized. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s mandate, however, stated that “the priority for each school district was to ensure all students were fed during the closure” (Mitchell News-Journal 3/25/20).

To meet state directives, Mitchell County Schools instituted a “Grab & Go” policy for food distribution.  Lunch for the day and breakfast for the next day are bagged up for all kids of school age whether or not they are enrolled in public school.  The meals are distributed at schools, fire departments, community centers, and apartment complexes.  About 2000 meals go out each day, with food workers, volunteers, and those picking up meals all following recommended safety practices. 

According to Dr. Mandy K. Cohen of the NC Department of Health and Human services, 11 million meals for children have been provided across North Carolina as of April 20th.  Gov. Cooper has announced that NC is one of 4 states approved for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program, which will help families purchase food for more than 800,00 children who normally receive free and reduced lunch at school.  The federal program will give families $250 per child; families do not need to apply if they are already enrolled in the EBT program. 

Providing food for families and elderly individuals who sometimes don’t qualify for financial assistance, in early 2020, Mitchell County Shepherd’s Staff provided food boxes for an average of 250 families, or 650 individuals, each month.  Since the job loss and other economic changes associated with Corona Virus restrictions, however, Executive Director Larry Davis estimates that the amount of food distributed has increased by 20 to 25%. 

Shepherd’s Staff has long relied on donations from local churches, but with worship services cancelled, those donations have dwindled at a time when demand is rising.  MANNA Food Bank remains an important source of food priced low, but MANNA is also experiencing increased demand.

To limit the number of people in Shepherd Staff’s small facility at the intersection of Penland Road and Highway 226, new procedures for food pickup have been implemented.  Requests may be called in or ordered through the car window when clients pull into the parking lot.  A box of food is brought to the vehicle and placed in the trunk by director Larry Davis, intern Tabitha Callahan, or Shepherd’s Staff volunteers in order to adhere to social distancing mandates.  Personnel are also wearing masks and sanitizing frequently.  Shepherd’s Staff is open 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, plus 9:00 to 1:00 on Friday. 

Neighbors Feeding Neighbors Food Ministry also operates with a drive-thru pickup policy, Mondays and Tuesdays, noon to 5:00 PM.  Currently located in a house next to Freedom Baptist Church on Roan Road, the food ministry is rapidly running out of space and seeking a new home. 

Mitchell County Shepherd’s Staff and Neighbors Feeding Neighbors each recently received a grant from the Fund for Mitchell County.  Various churches in Mitchell County also have food pantries; these include various Baptist churches – Bakersville, Mount Carmel, Bear Creek, and Grassy Creek, plus The Bridge Church of WNC and Tipton Hill Methodist Church.  Other food ministries, according to Mitchell News-Journal, are Cry of a Child, Tri-County Pregnancy Center, Ave Maria Ministries, Centro Latino, M-Y Parish and My UMC Food Pantries.

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About the Numbers

You will note a series of numbers contained in the blog. They document the spread of virus through confirmed cases by the federal Centers for Disease Control and by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. These are the official totals provided by state and local government at the date of the post and do not include estimates or cases not confirmed by these agencies. This is our effort to provide an accurate gauge of confirmed virus spread as it continues during the pandemic.

6,951

Cases in North Carolina
4/21/20

213

Deaths in North Carolina
4/21/20

427

Current Hospitalizations
in North Carolina
4/21/20

672

Cases in Western North Carolina
4/21/20

5

Cases in Mitchell County
4/21/20

35

Deaths in
Western North Carolina
4/21/20

776,093

Cases in the United States
4/2120

41,758

Deaths in the United States
4/21/20

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