The Food Bank Does More Than You Think

Words can be misleading. That’s because their definitions are constantly evolving.

Take the words “food bank.” I thought I knew what that was. I thought it was a large pantry, often attached to a church, where people could donate canned goods to people who needed food.

For years, I thought that was what the Food Bank of the Sandhills did. I happily donated cans through my school or church to the Food Bank. I was surprised to learn recently that the Food Bank does so much more.

Last year, the Food Bank delivered 4 million meals in the Sandhills. The Food Bank is behind, or partners with, almost every organization in this area that feeds the poor and hungry.

Ever heard of the BackPack Pals Program? That’s the Food Bank. Heard of Kids Cafe at the Boys & Girls Club? That’s operated by the Food Bank. The cook at the B&G club? That’s provided by the Food Bank. Heard of Snack Pack Pals for senior citizens? Yes, it’s the Food Bank.

In fact, the Food Bank has more than a hundred partnering organizations that come to it for food that they in turn distribute.

What’s more, the Food Bank is a First Responder. Remember that tornado that tore up part of Sanford a few years back? Who provided food? The Food Bank. In cases of natural disaster, the Food Bank is a strong ally with organizations like the Red Cross for meeting needs in challenging times.

The Food Bank may have an awareness problem in our community, but that isn’t keeping it from taking on formidable challenges. This summer, the Food Bank again is rising to the occasion with a program to help feed hungry children in the area when school is out.

Of the 88,300 people in this county, 15 percent are considered food-insecure. That means they are unable to access enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, or go hungry because they had to skip meals. Of that group, almost 5,000 are school-age children. When they go to school, these children get free or reduced school meals, and have access to the BackPack Pals Program for the weekends. But what do they do during the summer?

The Food Bank wants to raise $50,000 so that it can finance delivering at least 25,000 meals to children during the summer. With the help of partner organizations, the meals will go to children in summer care programs, who are often kids with working parents. Although our unemployment rate in this county is less than 7 percent, poverty and food insecurity is twice that rate.

Poverty and the working poor are a growing problem in this country. We often see poverty and hunger as a Third World problem. It’s something we all often assume doesn’t exist in our backyard. But in fact, it does.

The United States has a child poverty rate of 23 percent, making it the second-worst among 35 OECD countries. Second to Romania. The rate here is twice that of the U.K., for example. Childhood poverty in our country is twice that of adult poverty and three times that of senior citizen poverty. Some 20 million children rely on school meal programs, according to UNICEF.

Between BackPack Pals and school lunches, the needs are starting to be addressed during the school year. But what happens when school is out?

The Food Bank has a compelling story. It is trying to fill a big, often unnoticed, gap. Despite the stigma associated with poverty and hunger — unfortunately one that has made some corporations decline to be “associated with” the cause — the Food Bank’s efforts make sense.

Kids need to grow and learn and play. It’s not easy to do any of that when you are hungry.

So when you think of the Food Bank, don’t just think of a canned goods pantry. Think of an organization that supports our entire region by eradicating hunger and giving all people a chance. The goal is to first address the hunger — and then, second, to help people acquire skills to cultivate and cook their own food.

I wrote an article a year ago about choosing charities wisely by looking at how much of your donation actually turns into the promised deliverable. The Food Bank scores high on that front, with 97 cents of every dollar turning into food.

Tax returns come soon. Here’s a place to invest some of that return back into your community.

-Marybeth Sandell


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