Special episode: Hunger in the Cape Fear and Wilmington’s new Food Bank facility

If you’ve been following the show, you know that we’re full into elections mode, with deep dives on the races for New Hanover County commissioners and school board — and the state representative campaigns from around southeastern NC. But, today’s show delves into a topic that we didn’t want to put on hold — hunger in our region, and what to do about it.

The Biden Administration recently put a federal-level spotlight on the issue, the first White House to do so since Nixon.

A lot of people I talk to are surprised at just how pervasive hunger is, in one of the most prosperous countries in the world — and specifically in New Hanover County. There are over 66,000 people dealing with hunger in the greater Wilmington area covered by our local food bank, that’s New Hanover, Brunswick, Columbus, and Pender counties. Over 16,000 of those people are children.

People are also often surprised at who is at risk for hunger and the pandemic made it more clear than ever just how many people are living a paycheck or two from disaster.

Now rising inflation and soaring rents are carving away at people’s finances from both ends — leaving them with less money to spend at the same time that money is worth less and less in the grocery store. Eating healthy is expensive, and for many shifting into an austerity survival mode means diets get worse.

At the micro level, people are suffering. And at the macro level, lack of access to and the inability to afford healthy food is driving up healthcare costs — and increasing the likelihood of negative health outcomes (that’s how insurance companies say more people will get sick or die from preventable diseases). It’s a massive, multifaceted problem facing the entire country.

Back here in Wilmington, the local branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina is doing its best. But it’s short on space, and the space they do have isn’t laid out very effectively.

That hampers their ability to grow, and do more, but it also means that their broad network of community partners to do more. So all the non-profits that run soup kitchens, or after-school meal programs, or things like that — the groups that come and basically ‘shop’ for their ingredients at the food bank — can’t react to increasing need.

So, for the last few years, the Food Bank has been planning a new facility that would allow them to do more, not just in terms of delivering more meals to a broader area, but initiating new programs, getting to some of the underlying issues that put people at risk for hunger.

The facility broke ground in February — but, there’s a hitch. The cost of construction has gone up: materials, labor, the whole enterprise is far more expensive than it was, on paper, a year ago. Local government and businesses have pitched in, but there’s still a gap. To make ends meet, the Food Bank needs about $100,000 dollars in donations.

That’s not chump change, but for an affluent county with tons of resources, it’s certainly doable.

So, for this episode, I invited Beth Gaglione, the executive director of the Wilmington branch, and Matt Rogers, who sits on the leadership board, to come in and make their case.

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