Updated: Aug 30, 2019
From Florence to Michael, the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was, in a word, extreme. Florence made landfall right on the North Carolina coast, initiating days of major flooding throughout the state, and Michael came ashore south of us as the third most intense storm to make landfall in United States history.
Year round, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and our network of over 460 on-the-ground partner programs provide essential nutritional resources to families facing food insecurity. These families, living under the weight of low-wages and poverty, are already at-risk and we see how they are disproportionately impacted when a natural disaster occurs.
Second Harvest works hard to coordinate emergency food response before a disaster occurs, through the event, and, perhaps most significantly, throughout the recovery.
A coordinated network.
Second Harvest is a part of Feeding America—a national network of 200 food banks that covers the entire United States. Cumulatively, this network holds over 10 million square feet of warehouse space and 2,400 trucks that are used every day to respond to the on-going disaster that is food insecurity. However, this network and logistical expertise is also carefully leveraged, and these logistical solutions are re-purposed for disaster relief and are vital to delivering food, water, and supplies to impacted areas.
Second Harvest quickly got to work in the aftermath of both Hurricane Florence to assist our sister food banks in both North and South Carolina. We opened up warehouse space to operate as a holding facility for hurricane relief donations for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and our Providence Community Meals program provided ready-to-heat meals to Salvation Army locations in South Carolina.
Everyone becomes your neighbor.
When disaster strikes, Second Harvest first and foremost needs to make sure that the communities in our service region are cared for and served. However, our responsibility does not stop there.
As was the case with both Hurricanes Florence and Michael, many of our sister food banks were damaged or without power after the storm. These same food banks were responsible for serving some of the most impacted areas. Second Harvest, and the Feeding America network as a whole, is designed to be able to move in and provide support to these food banks so their communities can continue to be supported while they repair and restock.
Second Harvest sent staff members to help our sister food banks in their massive response to the hurricanes, a task they were facing while they also struggled to reestablish their own operations and capacity. We assisted down east at food bank branches in Sand Hill and in New Bern, NC, as well as in Panama City, Fl.
“We’ve been out checking in on the local partner agencies that are able to operate and helping to open temporary agencies to serve community needs,” explains Second Harvest Food Banker Ashley Bonner, who has been helping at Feeding the Gulf Coast in Florida. Ashley says that while the volunteer response has been tremendous, it is of particular value to the local food banks for fellow food bankers to bring their expertise and knowledge to help out.
“The need is tremendous. Even a month after the storm hit, families are only just now getting back power in some cases, and thus able to get back to cooking meals. Kids are only just now returning to school in some areas, and we are making sure that they are fed and full so they can concentrate on their studies… and feel some sort of normalcy again.”
Second Harvest Food Banker James Caldwell says that helping our sister food bank in New Bern, NC, has been a humbling experience.
“Normal to us is waking up in our bed, drinking coffee, juice, or whatever and proceed on with our day,” he observes. “To see families that lost everything — and yes life is more important than things of materialistic value– but how hard can you believe it is to go back to “normal” where there’s nothing left in their life that’s normal. Everything that they would call “normal” is laying in their front yard or along the side of the road waiting for someone to it take away. If we can help with just something simple– like food– we can lift some of this immense stress and burden from their shoulders.”
“Once you join a food bank family, you are forever a part of this network,” says Nikki McCormick, Second Harvest’s Director of Agency Relations. “That’s why it was never a question as to whether or not we should send staff to our sister food banks in North Carolina and Florida. Instead, we got to work re-arranging our staff members’ responsibilities here to accommodate their extended absence? Once we figured this piece out and which staff members could cover for their teammates, the process of “deployment” was very easy. With Feeding America’s help, the entire process has been streamlined to get help as quickly as possible to where it’s most needed.”