Throughout May SHARE Charlotte will be talking about the organizations that work every day to make sure Charlotte residents are fed, that they have access to fresh foods and that they are educated about healthy food choices. #Food4GoodCLT
Charlotte has a world-class culinary institute in Johnson & Wales. We have restaurants opening daily, including ones by James Beard-caliber chefs.
But food in our area is not equally distributed. For many, strolling the produce aisle at a local grocery store is a far-off dream, simply because there is no Harris Teeter, Publix, Food Lion or Whole Foods that’s easy to get to. Many in Charlotte live in food deserts where the only access to any food is through a gas station convenience store.
Let that sink in a minute.
It sounds like a bizarre Food Network competition: Take a few bucks and concoct a meal from your local gas station. But for many in the Charlotte metro area, this is real life. And it’s not great.
Here are five numbers that tell the tale about the need for food right here in Charlotte:
This school year, 76 of CMS’ 170 schools have poverty levels so high that every student gets free breakfast and lunch. Translation: almost half (45 percent) of all CMS schools have students who need two meals a day provided for them free of charge. This does not include other schools that have smaller percentages of students receiving free or reduced lunches.
The reality here is many students in Mecklenburg County receive their only meals of the day through school. What happens on the weekends or in the summer months? Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina operates 50 Kids Cafe sites which feed thousands of children daily throughout our region. They also provide backpacks of nutritious, ready to eat or easy to prepare foods that are sent home on weekends and holidays when school meals are not available. They operate a school-based mobile pantry and snack program.
Second Harvest needs volunteers all year to sort food and provide other help to feed our community.
In 2016, through a network of 20 volunteer-staffed food pantries, Loaves & Fishes fed 67,508 people in Mecklenburg County. That is enough people to almost fill Bank of America Stadium, which seats about 75,000. Loaves & Fishes provides a week’s supply of nutritionally balanced groceries at no cost to individuals and families who are experiencing a short-term crisis.
In 2015, 87,354 Charlotte residents did not have access to fresh, healthy foods. They lived in areas known as food deserts. Elliott Royal, Mecklenburg County’s Food Access Coordinator, implemented a pilot program last fall to convert 10 convenience stores into Healthy Corner Markets by providing displays with fruit and vegetables at corner marts, the only grocery experience for many Charlotte residents.
“If you have access to Harris Teeter, you don’t think about those who don’t,” Royal said in a recent WBTV interview.
Many of us may have to make the choice of what to make for a meal or where to go, but we know we’ll have a meal. According to research in 2015 from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, nearly 35 percent of households with children in Mecklenburg County are food insecure and are uncertain if they’ll be having that next meal. Nationally this number is 19 percent. Charlotte has some work to do.
Friendship Gardens operates more than 90 gardens including the three-acre Urban Farm at Garinger High School. These gardens are independently run and operated, but each provides a portion of their harvest to Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s local meals-on-wheels organization which delivers 750 healthy meals every weekday to people in need. Fifty-nine percent of Friendship Trays’ clients say these meals are their primary source of food.
If you want to do something to help feed our community, participate in this Saturday’s (May 13) Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive which benefits Loaves & Fishes and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Plus, it’s SUPER simple. Just leave donated food items by your mailbox and the US Postal Service will pick them up and deliver to these two organizations.
Photo: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer files, Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer files, Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, MyCamera for SHARE Charlotte, Friendship Gardens