Charlotte kids are hungry; you can help

The Observer editorial board

Volunteers sort and pack bread at Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte last month.
Volunteers sort and pack bread at Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte last month. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

As many of us scurry to get all the presents and food lined up for the holidays, we should pause to remember that hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Living in our economically segregated bubbles, it’s easy to overlook how widespread hunger is in Charlotte and the state.

“I came here from Billings, Montana,” Tina Postel, executive director of food pantry Loaves & Fishes, told the editorial board Friday. “Charlotte is such a thriving, amazing community that it threw me for a loop that there are that many hungry people.”

How many?

About 157,000 people were “food insecure” in Mecklenburg County in 2013, meaning they did not always have access to adequate food.

Consider these eye-opening numbers:

▪ About 35 percent of all Mecklenburg households with children (more than one in three) are food insecure – nearly double the national average.

▪ North Carolina has the eighth highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, affecting 630,000 households.

▪ From July 2009 to July 2014, the percentage of N.C. kids on food stamps jumped from 22 percent to 31 percent. About one in four is food insecure on a regular basis.

Postel’s Loaves & Fishes sees the problem up close at its food pantries. Hungry people will make close to 70,000 visits to its Mecklenburg pantries this year, about the same as last year, and almost half of those benefiting are children.

The causes and solutions to North Carolina’s hunger are complex. At its core, of course, too many families do not make a living wage. High rents, especially in Charlotte and other urban areas, force families to choose between rent and food. Many neighborhoods, known as food deserts, don’t have lower-cost food options nearby.

State lawmakers made things worse this year. They imposed a three-month time limit on food stamps for childless adults, including those in extreme poverty, who aren’t able to find work, job training or volunteer opportunities for 20 hours a week.

Policymakers could help ameliorate the problem. They could restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit they wrongly eliminated in 2013 and remove the three-month food stamp limit. Locally, they could use zoning and incentives to boost economic development in struggling areas.

But you as an individual can help, too. Volunteer in a pantry or donate food or money. It might be the most meaningful present you give this year.

Want to help?

Volunteer or donate to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina or Loaves & Fishes.

Second Harvest: www.secondharvest

metrolina.org; 704-376-1785.

Loaves & Fishes: www.loavesandfishes.org; 704-523-4333.