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“Around here, people are just as good as they can be.”
James Osborne is a small man with deep, wise wrinkles that curl up around his eyes when he smiles. James says that he, like many people up in Ashe County in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, does what he can for others whether that be hauling trash or feeding their dogs. “That’s how we do it up here.”
That spirit seems to be what fills the wood paneled dining room at Second Harvest Food Bank’s partner Ashe Outreach in Creston, North Carolina. The entire building smells like turkey and green beans, and Pearl, Ashe Outreach’s main cook, is bringing freshly cooked hot meals out to the main room, where volunteers are putting them into cardboard boxes and loading them into the backs of their pickup trucks and SUVs. “Some folks can no longer prepare their own meals, or just can’t get around well, so of course we do what we can to help,” says Pearl, who is quiet and clearly very gentle.
“It’s hard,” says James, looking outside where the sun is shining but the January air is very cold. “People live on small incomes, and their electrical and oil bills are really high. Sometimes they can’t afford food. It’s why I heat by wood myself. There just isn’t that much money to go around.”
71% of families coming to Second Harvest’s network in Ashe County report having had to choose between paying utility bills and purchasing food in the last year.
“And then some of them can’t hardly walk no more and their health is bad. That’s why I help out by taking this food out to the old people,” he says grinning.
James is 83.
Making Do With What We Have
Tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, cucumbers, ‘taters, and old timey shelly beans. James tells us that “about everyone out here has a garden.” He planted a full acre last year. But at the end of the season, he didn’t can a thing. Instead, he shared with his neighbors.
“People have done well with what they have and what they can make,” says Rob Brooks, Program Director at Ashe Outreach. “But geography as much as poverty has made it hard.”
For many of the communities that Ashe Outreach serves, the closest grocery store is in Tennessee, making it difficult to access especially for seniors or families living on a tight budget. 14.5% of Ashe County residents are food insecure. Ashe Outreach responds by providing a food pantry, hot community meals, a children’s backpack program and their mobile meals program.
It is both the mobile meals program and one of the community meals that Pearl and her volunteers have been cooking for all morning. Pearl brings the spirit of making do to her kitchen. Every week, Rob drives to Second Harvest Food Bank to pick up provisions to stock the pantry as well as to collect food for Pearl to cook into hot meals. Because of the free and unlimited produce they can collect from Second Harvest Food Bank, Rob returns with mishmash of vegetables each week and Pearl turns it into inventive meals. She will halve sweet potatoes and freeze them for casseroles, and make stews and broths with leftovers. It is what Rob refers to as “the creative table.”
Second Harvest provided over 831,000 pounds of food to Ashe County last year across our partner network.
Keeping an Eye on Folks
Ashe Outreach’s “creative table” extends to how they approach their mobile meals program. Run by volunteers, Pearl’s meals are driven in the beds of pickup trucks and the backs of SUVs up the winding mountain roads to the houses of Ashe County seniors.
David Holmes carries a meal bundled in a plastic bag up onto the porch of an old weather worn cottage perched on a hill. He taps on the door and it immediately opens; many of the folks he delivers to are waiting for his arrival. He shares a few words and asks if there is anything else they need.
David says that while people need the food (many of them can not cook for themselves, and may not be able to leave their homes often), he also says the meal delivery is a way to “keep an eye on folks.” One time volunteers delivering a meal found that a woman had fallen and needed help getting up. It’s a great excuse to check in on neighbors and “you are more accepted with a meal in your hand” says David.
David asks people what they need, and even gives some a ride into town to partake in the community meals. One gentleman is waiting for David’s arrival dressed head to toe in all black, from black cowboy boots to a black cowboy hat. He introduces himself as “Ashe County’s Johnny Cash” and has his guitar tuned and ready to go. Getting a ride with David down to the community meal is a way for The Man In Black to socialize and keep up with friends.
Ashe Outreach is one of Second Harvest Food Bank’s six outstanding partners in Ashe County, North Carolina. For a full list of partners in the region, and for information about food insecurity in Ashe County click here. To help us keep doing our part to lift up and support local communities that are feeding community in countless beautiful ways, click here.
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