Food Bank turns 35: Wooten: Farmers hate hunger

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Katrina Schauland Watkins (top), Food Bank of the Albemarle's agency relations manager, speaks with guests during the Food Bank's 35th anniversary celebration in Elizabeth City, Thursday. The Food Bank says it will distribute the equivalent of 5 million meals in a 15-county region in 2016-17.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

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.