Saturday, November 26, 2022

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NC Food Justice Advocates, Faith Leaders ‘Come to the Table’ to Address Hunger

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022   

Food pantries run by rural churches are often a lifeline for older, retired residents or those living with a disability.

Come to the Table is a program run by Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, which aims to help North Carolina's faith leaders learn about the root causes of hunger, and the role industrial agriculture plays in perpetuating food access inequities.

Justine Post, Come to the Table program director, pointed out while many churches offer critical stopgap services, congregations want to move beyond emergency services, to address the systemic issues.

"They're often noticing some common trends, which is maybe that a lot of younger families are coming in, or people who have full-time jobs, and it's just not enough," Post observed. "They feel like there should be more that can be done to address their needs."

More than 40 faith leaders across North Carolina will convene in January to begin the four-month-long training program. Post noted next year, Come to the Table is expanding its reach to accept applicants from outside the state.

Lisa O'Donnell, administrator and food pantry coordinator at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Stedman, said participating in the Come to the Table program has helped raise awareness on hunger in her congregation and given her new tools to tell hunger stories, so listeners understand food insecurity is happening all around them, every day.

"There is a billboard up not too far away from my house, and it's a child's face," O'Donnell remarked. "The caption said hunger can be hard to see, and that is something that is absolutely necessary to be known."

She added small church pantries are still struggling to meet the post-pandemic demand.

"We never ran out of food, which, to us, that's a miracle, because we're a tiny little church and a tiny little town," O'Donnell stressed. "But no matter, and we went from serving eight families a week to serving almost 40 families a week, every week."

Reliance on food pantries in North Carolina is up by 35%, according to data from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


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