In yet another indication of how Charlotte’s poor are struggling, an annual survey of hunger among Mecklenburg County’s low-income households shows little improvement over the past year.
The survey, done by the Loaves & Fishes free food pantry system, revealed 91 percent of respondents to the survey had run out of food in the past year and 71 percent had skipped eating for a time due to lack of food or money to buy food.
Tina Postel, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, says the numbers are virtually the same as last year’s survey, showing 2016 was a year without improvement for the community’s poor.
The survey also gave indications how low-income people are dealing with Charlotte’s lack of affordable housing: 53 percent of those surveyed said the free food they got from a pantry allowed them to shift grocery money to cover their rent payment. Others used the money for utility payments, transportation and/or health care needs.
Postel says the survey underscores the growing economic divide in Charlotte, a divide activists say fueled the violent protests that erupted this summer in uptown after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
“While our economy is improving for some, it’s not getting better for the clients we’re seeing at Loaves & Fishes,” Postel said.
“They are seeing rent increases and other costs of living are going up, but their salaries and other benefits aren’t improving. They are facing more hardship.”
Nonprofits across Mecklenburg County are taking a new look at their programs, as the community comes to grips with the sometimes violent protests of September, which included vandalism, looting and the killing of one protester, allegedly by another protester.
Earlier this week, Central Piedmont Community College and former Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine launched a college scholarship program in response to the protests, promising money to help students at the county’s five high poverty high schools find a way into college.
Loaves & Fishes is among the critical needs charities in the county that deal with the poorest among the poor. Last year, it gave a week’s worth of groceries to 71,766 people. Nearly half of those clients were children. Clients are referred by other nonprofits, and each household is allowed to visit eight times annually.
Postel said one way her agency is responding to the growing struggle for the poor is a loosening of those guidelines. Instead of requiring that clients must wait 45 days between pantry visits, the agency is letting the clients decide how to space out their eight visits.
The change is viewed as a way to help households deal with a short-term cash shortage due to a job change, an illness or medical treatment.