Community answers call for peanut butter

Across Charlotte, people are paying it forward with peanut butter as their currency.

When word spread in May 31 editions of the Observer that shelves at area food pantries were bare – at a time when a vise of spiking gas prices, higher food costs and job losses have families in a vise – people responded.

At least two churches, Myers Park United Methodist and Friendship Missionary Baptist, are rallying members to bring in jars of peanut butter – the one staple that food pantry directors told the Observer they use most often and rarely get enough of.

Kids are holding neighborhood drives, collecting cash and food. The Loaves & Fishes food ministry received $800 and a carload of food that a high school boy collected from neighbors.

One couple sent in a $1,000 check.

“I am very gratified, but not surprised,” said Beverly Howard, executive director of the 33-year-old organization, which runs food pantries in area. “When the words goes out that Loaves & Fishes needs help, people tend to respond.”

Peanut butter is a great food pantry donation, because it's high in protein and has a long shelf life, Howard said. But pantries don't typically get a lot of it, because people often have just one open jar of peanut butter.

Howard said Loaves & Fishes is “holding its own” right now, but the group expects another spike in demand after Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools – and their cafeterias – close for the summer this week.

At Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, donations poured in last week, said executive director Kay Carter. A 12-year-old brought in $240 he raised in his neighborhood. People also sent cash donations and e-mailed offers to volunteer.

One woman e-mailed to say she asked members of her book club to bring peanut butter to their meeting, Carter said. Every month the group is going to collect a different item to donate to Second Harvest. This woman is going to ask her bunco group to do the same, and her husband is going to organize a food drive among coworkers.

“If one person kind of takes this on and connects with everyone in their life, think of how much impact we can have,” Carter said. “We have gotten dozens of these e-mails.”

Second Harvest is often asked if it can take fresh produce, including bumper crops from private gardens, Carter said. The answer: a resounding yes.

“We encourage people to plant extra rows and donate,” she said.

Second Harvest supplies food to pantries that serve individuals and to kitchens that serve free meals. So about 25 percent of what it deals in is perishable food, Carter said. It can also take frozen foods, such as turkeys, and refrigerated items, such as milk.

“Basically, anything they want to bring us,” Carter said, “we can use.”