Budget cuts could mean more hunger in WNC: From Asheville Citizen Times, October 30

Posted 11/03/11

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The Citizen Times is correct to say “a perfect storm is brewing” in last Sunday’s editorial.

Alan Peters from Murphy summed it up when he noted that the Cherokee County Sharing Center Food Pantry is “buying, bagging and giving out more groceries than ever before in more than 25 years of existence. We are getting hit three ways increase in demand, increase in food prices, and a decrease in donations.”

In the past year, MANNA FoodBank distributed 9.9 million pounds of food to 16 counties in WNC through a network of 231 local partners, like the Cherokee County Sharing Center Food Pantry. They are stretched to the maximum. One pantry reported it temporarily closed its doors because there was not enough food to go around. Another has to limit service to the first 50 people in line.

And now a new threat is on the horizon. Congress is considering budget cuts that would destroy a crucial part of the fabric that holds a sagging safety net together. Federal food commodities from The Emergency Food Assistance Program supplies 26 percent of the food that MANNA FoodBank distributes. There is no way the nonprofit and faith based community can make up that difference.

Despite continued high unemployment rates (six WNC counties were above 11 percent in August), food stamps (FNS) are also on the chopping block. More than 124,000 people in WNC use food stamps to make it through month. Half are children or the elderly — our most vulnerable populations.

A food pantry recipient says: “I’m a 44-year-old construction worker. Since our company closed, I’m just trying to feed my kids. We need help with food. It isn’t a good feeling going to bed hungry.”

As MANNA’s Terri Farless notes, “In the mountains we understand budgeting, making do, and living within our means. We have never had a choice but to do so. However, when we tighten the budget at home, we don’t start with the food on our children’s plates.”

We echo the call of the Citizen Times for our lawmakers to let us know where they stand. Reps. Schuler and McHenry, and Senators Burr and Hagan: It’s time to go on the public record.

What leadership will you provide to assure that our neighbors in WNC, and around the nation, have food on the table as we collectively work our way out of the current economic crisis?

We all acknowledge that reductions are needed to address the deficit. But let us not start with the food on our children’s plates.

Threlkeld is executive director of MANNA FoodBank. The MANNA board of directors also endorsed this opinion.

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