Food Bank turns 35: Wooten: Farmers hate hunger
By William F. West
Friday, August 18, 2017
The leader of one of the state's largest farm organizations says the idea of anyone, especially children, going hungry in the world is unthinkable for farmers.
“Farmers absolutely hate hunger,” N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten told approximately 150 people gathered in Elizabeth City Thursday evening to celebrate Food Bank of the Albemarle's 35th anniversary.
“Where there's hunger we believe ought to help,” Wooten said. “Farmers and the Farm Bureau believe that we have an obligation to step forward and help you in this effort.”
Thursday's gathering was held under a massive tent at Food Bank of the Albemarle's headquarters on Tidewater Way, just off Weeksville Road.
Wooten, who noted that agriculture continues to be North Carolina's largest industry, said farmers understand their responsibility to feed more people using fewer resources.
Even with the increased use of better technology, the land available for growing food continues to shrink, Wooten said. Thanks largely to development and population growth, farmland in many parts of North Carolina is vanishing at much faster than the national rate, he said.
Still, he told those in attendance, farmers have one thing in common with them.
“Our farmers wake up everyday with a mission and with a passion to provide food and fiber to their neighbors,” he said. “And sometimes those neighbors are people all around the world.”
Food Bank Director Liz Reasoner also spoke at Thursday’s event. Reasoner noted that when President Lyndon Johnson declared his “War on Poverty” program in 1964, the national poverty rate was 19 percent. Fifty-three years later, Reasoner said, northeastern North Carolina's poverty hovers at 19 percent and its child poverty rate hovers at 24 percent.
“That is just not acceptable,” she said.
Reasoner said Food Bank of the Albemarle is not not content with the same old strategies for fighting hunger.
“We refuse to be apathetic,” she said. "We must offer reason and be courageous in our vision and our commitment and in the belief that we can have a world without hunger. We believe hunger is not a partisan issue.
"Providing food resources to seniors so that they can buy their medicine and remain independent is not partisan,” she continued. “Providing food for veterans that served our country, and feeding the disabled and children should not divide us.”
Reasoner said those who support anti-poverty efforts need to “work together to develop solutions that enable people to live with dignity and live up to their potential."
Reasoner said Food Bank of the Albemarle's shelf stable product line continues to shrink while the opportunities to obtain quality nutritious food from growers increase. She drew applause when she announced the Food Bank’s plans to embark on a massive effort to expand a cooler and freezer.
Currituck Board of Commissioners Chairman Bobby Hanig, who attended the Food Bank’s anniversary celebration, said the agency is "absolutely vital" to the community.
"Without them, our entire community would be in really bad situation," Hanig said. "The efforts that these people put forward every day is just amazing. They get in there and they work in the heat. And they work in the cold. It's just amazing to me."
Maurice Berry, a lifelong farmer in Pasquotank County, said the Food Bank does a great job helping needy people. He said farmers “are glad to be able to help them out whenever we can" through volunteer efforts and by providing extra food.
Food Bank of the Albemarle was created in 1981, when a group of citizens held a public forum, chaired by then-Pasquotank Commissioner Bill Owens, to discuss forming a food bank to serve the region. Following that meeting, 20 area churches, dozens of local businesses and individuals, and the Elizabeth City Foundation donated money, food and labor to establish what was known was Albemarle Food Bank and Food PantryInc.
During its first five years, Food Bank of the Albemarle provided approximately 467,872 meals in a 10-county service area. The number of meals provided would more than double to 1.9 million over the next five years.
In 2016-17, the Food Bank will distribute the equivalent of five million meals across a 15-county service area. The Food Bank expects to provide 10.7 million meals annually by 2025.