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Monthly food boxes help fill need

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Churches Outreach Network Pastor Rodney Coles explained a federal and state program for free supplemental food to a group of about 20 seniors Tuesday at New Dimensions Church in west Greenville.

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Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Government agencies use the term “food insecurity” to describe the condition of empty cupboards in homes. The people with the empty cupboards call it hunger.

By any name, it is a real problem in Pitt County and throughout eastern North Carolina, one that some community outreach programs are trying to tackle on behalf of senior citizens.

People 60 and older who need help might find it today and Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Pitt County Council on Aging office at 4551 County Home Road. Volunteers with Churches Outreach Network and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina will register qualified Pitt County seniors for a free a monthly carton of food through the joint federal and state Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Pearl Williams, 66, of Greenville was among the early arrivals for Tuesday’s registration at New Dimensions Church in west Greenville.

“I wasn’t planing to go out today, but I need to sign up for this program,” Williams said. “I take care of my grandchildren, too, but I don’t get food stamps or all that other stuff. I have enough for them, but I need some help for myself.”

Christi Mallasch, The Food Bank’s manager of commodity programs and inventory, is teaming with CON leader Pastor Rodney Coles Sr. to regIster Greenville seniors registered for the program. 

Beginning at the end of September, the Food Bank will supply the church network with the food boxes and Coles will arrange convenient locations for people to pick them up. For those who cannot get out, pastors will find a way to deliver them, Coles said  He is providing the same service to qualified people in other Pitt County communities, including Bethel, Falkland, Fountain, Grifton and Grimesland.

“Senior citizens in Pitt County are very hungry,” Mallasch said. “About one in every five county residents are food insecure, including about 2,200 seniors. This population is very underserved and easy to miss.” 

Many programs do not cater to the particular needs of seniors, which makes the supplemental food program so important to them, she said. Coles said many seniors he speaks with get about $16 per month in food stamps.

“At the end of the day, someone has to pay for the food, so this program makes it possible for the state and federal governments to do that to a degree, based on the identified need,” Mallasch said.

That’s where registration of seniors becomes important, the program manager said.

“Every state is given a certain caseload and number of cartons based on its identified need. If the N.C. Department of Agriculture fills that load (and demonstrates through registration numbers that there is more need), it can report that to the USDA and request more cartons,” Mallasch. “The true depth of the need is always underestimated, by the government and everyone.”

Compounding the issue is the difficult challenge of identifying individuals in the population who need help.

“Seniors are an especially tough nut to crack, and that’s why we rely on our partners, like Pastor Coles and Churches Outreach Network, a trusted name working on the ground floor in communities in many ways, not just addressing hunger,” Mallasch said. “We could not possibly do what we do without partners like them.”

Geraldine Graves, 68, of Bell Arthur signed up for the program and said she has other neighbors who could benefit from it.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have the means to get food and can’t get around,” Graves said. “They have to pay for their Medicare and their medicines. It’s a real stretch. It hurts me because I see a lot of prosperity now and you’d think things would be better for older people. I wonder why so many have to go without.” 

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

INSIDE THE BOX

Pitt County residents 60 and older with a photo ID who are income-qualified are encouraged to register for free monthly government-supplied food boxes. The boxes contain the following items:

Two boxes of cereal

Two bottles of juice

Two cartons of milk

One box of cheese

One 24-ounce can of meat

One bag of dry beans or a jar of peanut butter

One bag of rice or two pounds of pasta

Four cans of vegetables

Two cans of fruit

Signup is from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today and Thursday at the Pitt County Council on Aging office at 4551 County Home Road.

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