Updated: Aug 29, 2019
133 billion pounds of food is wasted every year, yet 42 million Americans do not get enough nutritious food to eat to lead healthy, productive lives.
It was those contrasting realities that led to an innovation that we now call “food banking”—non-profit regional hubs equipped to solicit, inventory, inspect, store and distribute food to food pantries, community meal sites, and other nonprofits feeding their local communities.
Northwest North Carolina is an agricultural region, with farmers growing nutritious produce from the apples of Alexander County to sweet corn in Rockingham, and with food retailers, manufacturers, and distributors from Burlington all the way up to Boone. Knowing that all this good, quality food existed right here in our region, more than three decades ago Second Harvest Food Bank set out to get it to those who needed it most.
On October 11, 1982, Second Harvest opened its doors, joining the nationwide food bank movement. We started in a 1,800 square foot warehouse on Polo Road in Winston-Salem where we received our first donation: 3,000 hot dog buns leftover from the grand opening of the Piedmont Triad International Airport.
We’ve come a long way since that day.
Ten years into our operations, we needed to expand and moved into a 34,000 square foot warehouse on the outskirts of Winston-Salem. Eventually, we doubled that space and later added second, third, and fourth buildings, enabling us to acquire, sort, and move more food. We are currently preparing to expand our cooler space, adding additional and larger refrigeration rooms that will allow us to bring in more healthy, fresh, perishable foods.
Success, of course, is not measured in square footage. Certainly, our resourcefulness has enabled us to rescue more food and necessitated more space (in 1982, we distributed a little under 9,000 pounds of food to the communities we serve; now distribute well over 35 million pounds annually). However, success is also not measured in poundage. We have not grown for the sake of growth; we have grown because we have had to.
Despite our prosperous land of plenty, hunger remains persistent and relentless in Northwest North Carolina. While we have slowly have made progress, still one in seven of our neighbors continues to face food insecurity. Hunger is, after all, a symptom of poverty. It is not that we as a society lack food; it is that too many families cannot access or afford it.
In 2018, families in Northwest North Carolina are making hard choices. They are choosing between purchasing food or purchasing their medicine. They are choosing between buying food and paying rent. They are choosing between healthy nutritious food and furthering their education. These are impossible decisions to have to make and they are undignified choices to be offering families in a society of our means.
Over the years, we have gotten very good at moving food (in fact, we move 37 tons of it a day). We have the committed service of hundreds of loyal volunteers who inspect eggs, grow vegetables, and pack food boxes. We have a robust network of over 460 on-the-ground partner programs across 18 counties that we support through training, capacity building, micro-grants, food safety compliance, FNS outreach, nutrition guidance, advocacy and more. If you come to our warehouses early in the morning, you will see our fleet of trucks coming and going as the sun comes up, bringing food in, moving food out. We are a well-oiled machine.
These logistical abilities have allowed our food bank to skillfully respond to disaster relief efforts over the years. In 1990 we sprang into action as Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo, Floyd and others struck; in 2005, our food bank became the staging point for relief after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Just a few weeks ago, our Providence Culinary Training students got a crash-course in disaster response as they prepared hundreds of ready to heat meals for first responders and families impacted by Hurricane Florence.
While we will always be prepared and are forever diligent about this disaster work, our daily efforts are very much a response to the on-going crisis of persistent hunger… and poverty… in our communities.
36 years into our work, we are doing more than moving food. We are looking at the root causes of hunger, and addressing the widespread and pervasive poverty in our region. We are looking at employment and wages through our Providence Programs and have just opened our restaurant that is providing training, family supporting wages and employment to local residents. We are the lead conveners of Imagine Forsyth and are working in close collaboration with our partners throughout Northwest North Carolina to set the table with food, certainly, but also with the tools necessary to move out of poverty.
In 2018, we are asking the hard questions and listening carefully. We are working collaboratively within our communities to learn more about the struggles they see and what role we can play. We are asking our partners working in housing, in healthcare, in transportation, in workforce development how we can work together. We are asking why some communities are food deserts, and why so many families rely on corner stores and gas stations for their groceries. We are asking why our children are having difficulty making it through class until lunch time and how we can best reach them and their families to offer support. We are working with our partners to come up with creative solutions for reaching food insecure seniors, and we are asking pantry clients what foods they need to be healthy and secure. We are asking what the results and impacts of federal nutrition assistance programs are, and what we and our elected officials can do to strengthen them. We are asking what foods our children and seniors need to be healthy and how diet impacts our collective futures.
Because success can only be measured by the creation of healthy and hunger-free communities.
None of this work would be possible without YOU and the communities we serve. Every person who has helped pack up a box of food, placed a healthy canned food item in a Second Harvest collection box, supported us with a financial gift, or advocated in the community on our behalf has helped sustain our efforts. Through these actions, you cast your vote for the type of community you want Northwest North Carolina to be.
We’re deeply grateful for all you do to help Second Harvest Food Bank provide food and hope to our neighbors in need.
Together, we are #feedingcommunity.