“Better Together” is the current motto of Feeding America and the best takeaway of the year that was 2020. It is a year in which the needs and challenges of our communities rose to record-breaking heights. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, over 1.3 million North Carolinians applied for unemployment benefits from March to December of 2020. This data signifies the loss of income, stable housing, and reliable food sources for thousands of residents.

Second Harvest Food Bank, a program of Action Pathways, Inc., serves Cumberland, Sampson, Duplin, Bladen, Harnett, Robeson and Hoke counties. The Food Bank’s mission of hunger relief is carried out by a modest staff and volunteer groups who deliver services to families and individuals facing food insecurity. The food bank’s network is comprised of 260-member agencies who receive food supplies directly from Second Harvest to stock local food pantries, soup kitchens, and other outreach programs throughout the southeast. These grassroots organizations are the vehicle by which individuals and families are connected with nutritious food.

The challenges associated with COVID-19, such as stay-at-home orders and CDC guidance, negatively impacted the food bank’s network and capacity. Approximately 50 percent of the food bank partners ceased operations during the pandemic. As local needs steadily increased, Second Harvest and its remaining partners rose to the challenge to ensure the public had a reliable source of food supplies. As a result, the food bank quadrupled mass food distributions throughout the region this year. Partner agencies have reported a 40-percent increase in first-time pantry users. At last count, it is estimated that Second Harvest has distributed more than 11 million meals throughout southeastern North Carolina in 2020.

On behalf of the Action Pathways Board of Directors and CEO, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the hearts and hands of individuals who have assisted during the pandemic. The work and success of Action Pathways would not be possible without partners like Feeding America and Feeding the Carolinas. A special thanks to the State of North Carolina for enlisting the National Guard to play a pivotal role in supporting the operation of North Carolina food banks. We appreciate the County Emergency Operations Centers and Team Rubicon Disaster Response who have ensured that the response of the food bank within our communities has been safe and effective. Thank you to our public schools for allowing us to continue to administer our child hunger relief program to 2,500 participants in 53 schools and to utilize your facilities for local mass food distributions.

Finally, we would like to thank our donors and supporters who embody the motto of Second Harvest Food Bank, “Hunger Can’t Wait.” Your donations ensure that the food bank has adequate resources to respond to the immediate and long-term recovery needs in our service area. The challenges of 2020 will not be left behind as the pages of the calendar turn. Volunteers and donors —the life-blood of food banks — are still in high demand. Though we are all hopeful that there are better days ahead, community support will ensure that we are prepared to tackle the unknowns of tomorrow. To join the fight against hunger, visit our website at actionpathways.ngo.

Glenn Adams is the chairman of the Action Pathways Board of Directors. Action Pathways is a private, non-profit human services agency that provides programs to help combat poverty and hunger, and to improve education and employment opportunities. Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast North Carolina was founded in 1984, as a program of Action Pathways, Inc.