Second Harvest Food Bank is launching the public phase of an $8 million fundraising campaign that will allow it to double its warehouse space and increase its ability to feed the hungry in the Charlotte region.
While much has been made of the community’s ongoing success in solving homelessness, studies indicate the equally troubling issue of hunger remains a problem, particularly in the largely rural counties surrounding Mecklenburg County.
The proof is in a crammed 36,000-square-foot warehouse north of uptown that has been home to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina since the 1980s.
When current Second Harvest CEO Kay Carter took over the agency 11 years ago, it was distributing less than 10 million pounds of food annually in 16 counties. That number is now nearly 46 million pounds in 19 counties. The average increase in pounds distributed each year during those 11 years has been 21 percent, she said.
Carter says $4.5 million has already pledged toward the expansion by supporters who were quietly approached by the agency and asked for help during the past year. The largest gift – $1 million – came this month from Family Dollar Stores CEO Howard Levine, who said he hoped the size of his donation would encourage others to give.
“Knowing how many people rely on Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina every day, I felt compelled to help,” Levine said in a statement. “For many, the food bank is the difference between getting a meal, or going to bed hungry.”
Levine’s announcement is intended to kick off the more public phase of the campaign, as Second Harvest works to raise the final $3.5 million. Carter says she’d like construction to begin as soon as possible.
“It just isn’t physically possible for us to push any more product out of this facility,” she said. “The lack of space has become an impediment to feeding more people. We do not want to be in a position of having to say no to donated food because we do not have the space to store it.”
The project has won the backing of city and county officials, who had to work together on a land swap deal.
Second Harvest operates its warehouse on Spratt Street under a long-term lease agreement with the county, which owns the building. But the land needed for the expansion was adjacent to city-owned property near N.C. Music Factory Boulevard. Both governments worked together to allow the expansion to go forward, with the city deeding the property to the county, Carter said.
The project comes at a time when 518,000 people – 18 percent of the population – are living at or below the poverty level in the counties served by Second Harvest. Numbers become more pronounced in the rural counties, with 27 percent living in poverty in Anson and Montgomery counties, Carter said.
A 25-city study released in the winter showed Charlotte to be one of 17 cities that reported an increase in emergency food requests. The report said that in Charlotte, 10 percent of food needs went unmet.
Loaves & Fishes – the chief supplier of food for 20 Mecklenburg County food pantries – fed 80,000 people last year, which agency leaders say shows hunger in the city is settling back down to the pre-recession levels of 2008. The agency did its own survey last year and found 67 percent of the clients were hungry at some point in the past year but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough food in the house.
Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Burke County is among the pantries in outlying counties that rely entirely on Second Harvest for food. Jan Murphy of Oak Ridge Baptist said the church pantry has seen a steady increase in need the past decade, and is currently feeding up to 620 families a month.
“We have people come with two or three kids in the car, and you’ll see the kids start picking through the box for something before they’ve pulled out of the driveway. They want something to eat right then,” said Murphy.
“It breaks your heart to see their little faces pressed up against the windows of the car, thanking us like it’s a Christmas gift. It’s surprising to realize that people just down the road, your neighbors, are facing hardships you never would imagine.”
How to help
Donors can go online to www.secondharvestmetrolina.org and make a secure donation to the expansion project for themselves, or in honor of someone. Online donations for the expansion project will be accepted until the $8 million goal is raised. Details: 704-375-9639.