Demand for food help soars at Beach Food Pantry   

By on April 12, 2024

Beach Food Pantry Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne said demand has for food assistance has skyrocketed in recent years. (File photo, credit: John Hood/WTKR Staff)

Many residents struggling with ‘perfect storm’ of economic pressures

By Maggie Miles | Outer Banks Voice

At the Beach Food Pantry’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon in February, Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne shared some jarring statistics. From 2022 to 2023, the demand for food from their flagship on-site pantry program in Kitty Hawk grew by nearly 70%. And their Summer Food for Kids Program—which gives parents who live or work in Dare County access to healthy, nutritional food choices for children 18 and younger during the summer months—grew by nearly 200%.

The increase, she said was due to a series of factors, including the decrease in COVID-era assistance programs including food stamps, decreased child tax credits, the reinstatement of student loans, the slowing of the COVID-era tourism boom and the impact of inflation.

Food Pantry of the Albemarle, which serves 15 counties in Northeastern NC, including Dare County, confirmed with the Voice that it too has seen a hike in participation in all of their 150 food assistance programs as a result of these issues over the past year.

“Last year we were told somewhere around late January to early February that there was this perfect storm that was brewing around food assistance and that we should expect to see more people than we did during COVID. And ultimately, we did,” says Silverthorne.

The Beach Food Pantry provides assistance to anyone with proof of Dare County residency and offers in-store online delivery options, the latter for temporarily or permanently disabled individuals. Participants get two weeks’ worth of groceries for their household size and can re-stock every two weeks. The organization also has pop-up mobile pantry events and pop-up produce stands in the parking lot when they have overflow.

Part of the problem, according to Silverthorne, is that since the beginning of the pandemic, many families had been receiving the maximum allotment for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But in March of last year, the program went back to the original allotment.

“So we had families that have been getting six hundred something dollars a month for years, and all of a sudden, they were back down to two hundred and fifty. And that’s a lot of money,” says Silverthorne.

According to Liz Reasoner, Executive Director for the Food Bank of the Albemarle, combine the decrease in SNAP benefits with the increased cost of commodities like groceries and gas prices, and it creates a situation where it’s incredibly difficult for low-income workers to keep up. On top of that, Reasoner shared that across the counties they serve, rents have increased $300 to $500 a month per household in the post-COVID era.

“For people living paycheck to paycheck, one situation might happen that could completely derail them,” Reason told the Voice, explaining that missing one day of work because your child is sick, or having to pay for an unexpected car repair can mean that someone is suddenly scrambling to figure out how to make ends meet. Especially for the working poor, who often receive less medical and sick leave.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” says Reasoner. “Property managers are trying to cover their mortgages. No one specific is to blame.”

She adds that because of food banks and food assistant programs, food providers are often the first places people turn to receive assistance. “You can’t pay half rent, but you can cut costs with food to help supplement that income using these programs,” says Reasoner.

At the Beach Food Pantry in Kitty Hawk, Silverthorne says they’ve seen many first-time clients who have been able to survive on a fixed income for years and couldn’t make it work anymore. She says that the increase in Social Security benefits last year kicked some households off from SNAP benefits because it put them just a bit over that threshold for eligibility.

“And that just pushed them beyond where they could comfortably live. And all of a sudden, they were having to come see us,” says Silverthorne, explaining that Beach Food Pantry saw this impact with some of their other programs, such as their holiday meal program which saw a 66% increase—with a jump to 685 meals in 2023 compared with 366 in 2022.

Not all of the food banks are seeing a significant increase in people seeking food assistance, though. According to Reverend Toni Wood at the Buxton United Methodist Church Food Pantry, that organization hasn’t seen a significant increase from year to year, instead it contends with the traditional increase from summer to winter each year as the tourism season closes down.

“You’re talking about an island. So the island has no idea what’s going in the rest of the world for the most part,” says Wood, explaining that things like gas and grocery prices have always been expensive due to the remote location, and that there weren’t as many residents there receiving those COVID benefits.

“It’s just a unique situation out there. We are affected more by tourists than we are by pandemics.”

Up north at the Beach Food Pantry though, the trend shows no signs of stopping. According to Silverthorne, in the first three months of 2024, the Beach Food Pantry has provided meals to 1,500 individuals compared to 1,739 people for the entire year of 2021.

To cover the increase in demand, the Pantry has been partnering with local businesses, including recent partnerships with Target and Harris Teeter. But, she says, they have had to dip into funds from donations and grants they had put away in case of a rainy day.

“So we had to dig deep into those funds. And that’s something, especially given the interest again this year, that we’re trying to think about how we are going to raise additional funds in order to be able to make additional purchases,” says Silverthorne.

Fortunately, the Beach Food Pantry was recently awarded $250,000 through a grant called the Food Distribution Assistance Program provided by Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. The grant is part of Golden LEAF’s efforts to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities.

The Beach Food Pantry is one of only four organizations in the state of North Carolina to receive the maximum funds. But, Silverthorne explains, the funds may only be used to help increase capacity rather than purchase food. So they will be using the funds to purchase things they’ve never been able to have, like a refrigerated truck for their door-to-door programs, a walk-in refrigerator for their main building and a two-story addition to the east end of their building which will be used for dry storage and space for more volunteers and services.

The Food Pantry is also introducing some pilot programs, like an emergency satellite location in Rodanthe. In May, they’ll be opening a food co-op in which participants in will take on positions of leadership and elect leaders. In other communities, Silverthorne says, that program has proven to provide participants with professional development but also with the benefits of cooperation.

“Everything we try to do is done with dignity and care for one another and wanting to build relationships. We’re hopeful that the food co-op will allow us to do that with those folks,” says Silverthorne.

Despite these additions, donations from individuals and businesses no matter how big or small are more crucial now than ever. To find out how you can donate, go to their website Home — Beach Food Pantry, call 252-261-2756 or stop by.

Silverthorne says they don’t give out a specific list of foods and she recommends bringing in whatever you like to eat. Another immediate way to help is to bring in paper grocery bags for their shoppers’ program. With the recent demand in food and increase in bag prices, paper bags have become expensive to purchase.

“One hundred dollars that we spend on bags is one hundred dollars we can’t spend on food, so that’s an immediate way to help,” says Silverthorne.

“But we really are trying to figure out what other gaps there are in terms of thinking about planning for the future and that sort of thing. And also you know, is this really a new normal?” adds Silverthorne. “If we’re just in that moment where it’s gonna go back to what we knew before, seasonally, we can plan for that. But if growth continues this way, I think every business and organization on the beach is going to have to make some hard choices.”


BIDDER PRE-QUALIFICATION REQUEST:

Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


 



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  • bchgrl

    Thank you for sharing this important story.

    Friday, Apr 12 @ 6:53 pm