Drawing on the region’s spirit of resiliency and self-sufficiency, we’ll work to improve access to affordable, nutritious local food by spreading great examples that already exist:
• Last summer, a food-stamp recipient used her benefits to buy seeds to plant her own garden. Think how many family gardens can be started if/when that example catches fire. Our dream is to see community gardens in every WNC county.
• A Henderson County apple grower invited MANNA volunteers to harvest 160,000 pounds of apples from his 6-acre orchard, which found their way into food boxes and MANNA Packs throughout the region. MANNA dreams of exploring creative ways to promote apple growers’ success by harvesting both the premium-price apples and those that can be sold for less.
Getting nutritious, low-cost food to those in need can benefit both local farmers and people struggling to put food on the table, while addressing the needs of our most vulnerable populations — children and the elderly:
• Currently, we provide 3,500 children with MANNA Packs: a 3- to 5-pound bag of food for the weekend, when they don’t have access to free or reduced-cost school meals. According to the latest studies, however, more than 40,000 WNC children face food insecurity.
• In Western North Carolina, more than 28,000 seniors are eligible for Food and Nutrition Services benefits (food stamps). Yet only 7,000 are enrolled. Our goal is to increase enrollment so that our partner agencies aren’t the sole source of food for folks on a fixed income.
Ensuring the viability of the nutrition safety net through advocacy and public-policy engagement:
• The Emergency Food Assistance Program accounts for almost one-third of the food MANNA distributed to our agencies last fiscal year. With unemployment in the mountains hovering between 10 and 12 percent, Food and Nutrition Services benefits provide essential help to those struggling to make ends meet.
These programs must remain fully funded and solvent until the economy recovers sufficiently and jobs return. Our elected officials are duty-bound to protect these programs as if they were protecting our borders.
The ultimate goal is for everyone reading this article to take action aimed at ending hunger in WNC. For more information, visit http://mannafoodbank.org or call 299-3663.