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Greensboro News & Record: Greensboro politician hosts roundtable on food insecurity

Jul 24, 2015
In The News

By JONNELLE DAVIS First published April 25,2015

GREENSBORO — Moving into her own apartment was a good and bad experience for Melanie Noble.

The 24-year-old was part of a group that U.S. Rep. Alma Adams assembled Friday at her East Wendover Avenue office for a discussion about food insecurity in the Triad.

Noble said she spent about three months in a Winston-Salem shelter after her move from Pennsylvania in December. The mother of three choked up as she told the group that, even after getting her own apartment in February, she couldn’t afford to feed her children because her SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — benefits were delayed.

“I felt like a bad parent,” Noble said.

It’s people like Noble whom Adams and others in the community who fight hunger want to hear more from as they try to find solutions to tackle the issue.

Adams, a Greensboro Democrat who represents the 12th District, is a member of the House committee on agriculture and the subcommittee on nutrition. She was spurred to host the roundtable discussion by a recent report that shows the Triad fares poorly when it comes to feeding its residents. The Gallup poll that the Food Research and Action Center commissioned last year ranks the Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area as No. 1 for people who had problems securing food.

“That is just not acceptable,” Adams said.

She said she wanted to hear from stakeholders in the poverty fight — from people who are living it and from such people as Jan Jones, of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, who provide food to feed the hungry on a daily basis. Adams told them she needed to know a little more from them about how food insecurity is affecting the community.

Her goal: to use their ideas to fight for more money for programs that focus on the hunger problem.

The participants’ concerns were varied. They lamented that people who work hard don’t earn a livable wage. They spoke of a government system that doesn’t spend enough time trying to understand the reality of people living on public assistance.

They also expressed concern for the working poor who are using food banks to fill in the gaps when their monthly allotted benefits run out. But some of them can’t even get to food pantries, either because they don’t have transportation or because the pantry has limited operating hours.

What worked 30 or 40 years ago isn’t working today, said Denise Adams, a member of the Winston-Salem City Council. Fighting hunger today has to be a multifaceted effort, helping struggling people such as Noble get education, find employment, set a budget as well as other life skills.

Adams said the hunger problem should be tackled as a business plan, complete with a timeline and results.

They all agreed on one thing: They can’t do it as individuals. That’s been tried and hasn’t worked, Second Harvest’s Jones said.

“Collective impact is what we’re talking about,” she said.

Carl Vierling, the community resource network coordinator with Open Door Ministries in High Point, has heard stories of elderly residents who use animal food to supplement their diets.

“It’s like someone taking a can of soup and watering it down so it’ll go further,” Vierling said after the discussion.

But poverty is more complicated than not having food. Noble, who is trained as a dental assistant, said she can’t work because she doesn’t have child care. She said she was not approved for food assistance until the end of March — $668 a month for her family of four. Prior to that, she lived off the kindness of friends she had met in a shelter. They bought her food or let her use their benefits to do so. She said it was hard not knowing how or where she would get her next meal and having to stretch food and skip meals.

“It was disheartening.”