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 dubbed “Food Banking”—the creation of non-profit regional warehouse operations prepared to solicit, inventory, inspect, store and distribute food to other non-profit agencies feeding their 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 food retailers and distributors from Burlington all the way up to Boone. Knowing that all this good, quality food existed in our region, 35 years ago we set about to figure out how to get it to those who needed it most.
In October 1982, we joined the food bank movement. We started in an 1,800 square foot warehouse on Polo Road in Winston-Salem where we received our first donation: 3,000 hotdog buns leftover from the grand opening of the Piedmont Triad International Airport.
We’ve come a long way in 35 years. Ten years into our operations, we needed to expand and moved into a 34,000 square foot warehouse on the outskirts of Winston-Salem; this month—35 years to the month of our founding—we expand again, opening our third and fourth buildings.
Success, of course, is not measured in square footage. Instead, we have expanded our facilities because our operations have grown: We have become more resourceful and been able to rescue more food. In 1982, we distributed a little under 9,000 pounds of food to the communities we serve; we 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 land of plenty, hunger remains persistent and relentless in Northwest North Carolina. One in six of our neighbors faces food insecurity. Hunger is, after all, not social problem in its own: it is symptom of poverty. It is not that we as a society lack food: it is that too many families cannot afford it.
Families in Northwest North Carolina are making hard choices. They are choosing between purchasing food or purchasing their medicine. They are choosing between food and paying rent. They are choosing between 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.
35 years in, we have gotten very good at moving food (in fact, we move 37 tons of it day). We have a robust network of over 470 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 nine trucks coming and going as the sun comes up, bringing food in, moving food out.
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 last month, our Triad Community Kitchen students got a crash-course in disaster response as yet more natural disasters struck.
While we will always be prepared and are forever diligent about this work, our daily efforts are very much a response to the on-going crisis of persistent hunger in our communities.
But success is not measured in capacity, nor even in ability. In 2017, 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 to lunch time and how we can best reach their families. We are asking what are results and impacts of federal nutrition assistance programs and what we 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 for these 35 years. Through these actions, you have made a vote for the type of community you want Northwest North Carolina to be.
All we serve are blessed by your compassionate support. 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 feeding community. Together, we can solve hunger.