The Wilson Times

Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:04 AM

Food donations running low
Group that helps hungry kids asks community for help

By Olivia Neeley | Times Staff Writer

As the CHEW volunteer passed out the bags of food to hungry school children for the upcoming weekend, one little girl had a peculiar request.

"Can I have a flashlight in my bag?” she said.

While the volunteer was perplexed at first, the little girl’s explanation would prove to be heartbreaking. She needed that flashlight for her only place of refuge — the closet.

It was only the place she felt safe enough to eat; she feared someone would steal her food.

That little girl is one of nearly 600 Wilson County School students who are currently being fed on the weekends through the nonprofit CHEW (Children’s Hunger Elimination of Wilson).

"It’s hard to fathom you’ve got as large of a group of kids in this community and that’s what they think about,” said CHEW board member Glenn Blackwell about child hunger.

While the organizations has spent the last year making sure chronically hungry children are fed while away from school, they’ve teamed up with the Home Builders Association of Wilson to ensure that little girl and the rest of the students will have food over the holiday break.

"This food drive’s sole purpose is to try to take care of the students during the two-week holiday break,” said Blackwell, who is also a part of the Home Builders Association of Wilson. "I don’t think people realize the magnitude of the number of students who are in the community that are in this situation.”

The food drive will run from now until Dec. 23. There are currently two food drop-off locations — the Walmart parking lot and at The Shoppes at Brentwood. The association has set up two trailers, which are manned by volunteers.

While the food drive began earlier this month, food donations have been low. Blackwell said in a three-hour span on Saturday, he had only four people drop-off food donations. He said usually it’s lower than that.

"I may have one or two people stopping by making donations,” he said.

And officials are worried they might have to choose which age group gets fed during the two-week holiday break if they don’t receive enough donations.

CHEW, which is made up of churches, individuals, business leaders and school officials, formed last year after the group became aware that the only full meals some Wilson County children received were while they were at school. Together, they laid the groundwork and established a backpack program to ensure those children didn’t go hungry.

The nonprofit began feeding about 90 students. Now, they’ve identified nearly 600 chronically hungry students with the help of school officials.

"You don’t realize that it’s going on in your own backyard,” Blackwell said. "There is so much need right here.”

Officials have said The Wilson Times’ coverage of hunger issues has played a role in the growing support of CHEW, as well as making the community aware about such a hidden problem. The Times also began a series of stories last year titled "Hidden Hunger” documenting the struggles families face each day with food insecurity.



In 2011, 41 percent of children and teenagers in Wilson County lived below the poverty level, up about 3 percent from 2010, according to current figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Research shows good nutrition in the first three years of a child’s life will determine his or her physical and mental health, as well as educational achievements and economic productivity, according to Feeding America, the country’s leading hunger-relief charity, which provides food to millions of Americans each year.

Across the country, 16.2 million children under 18 live in households that can’t provide continual access to nutritious food, according to Feeding America. Children without food have poorer health and stunted development in their early years, research indicates. While in school, those same children can experience many behavior problems.

"They are already at a disadvantage and behind,” Blackwell said referring to hungry children at school. While the economy slowly improves, officials hope the poverty rate will decrease. But in the meantime, officials said, it’s important to not forget the children.

"It’s an investment in your own community to try and help them,” Blackwell said.



On Wednesday afternoon, Jerry Baker and Tac Cozart with J.W. Hunter Construction delivered several items to the CHEW food drive at the Walmart location. Both said their boss, Bill Hunter, wanted to get involved and help the children.

"Our boss made a donation and we went to pick up a truck bed full of food,” Baker said. "It’s a way to give back to the community. It’s a way to help those that are less fortunate than we are and take care of our youth. That’s important to us.”

Baker, who also attends Farmington Heights Church, is also a CHEW volunteer. He said he got involved with the organization about four months ago because his church adopted Jones Elementary students to ensure they’re fed on weekends.

"It’s important to have kids eating when they’re not in school,” he said. "Right here in our own backyard you have people that have kids that aren’t getting a full meal when they’re not in school. We’re here to take care of each other.”

Baker and Cozart said they encourage the community to donate to the food drive.

"I think it would be easy for a business in particular to either make a donation to buy these types of food that will feed the kids, or to collect at an office space, put up a donation box in the office and just collect over time and then make a donation,” Baker said.

He also said individuals can easily donate, too.

"It doesn’t have to be a truck bed load,” Baker said. "It could be $10 worth of food. Every little bit helps.”



Cozart said he didn’t know about the plight many children in Wilson face each day until recently. He said Hunter and Baker told him about CHEW’s mission and the need within the community.

"I was blown away,” he said. "It was the first I had ever heard about it. It’s like Glenn said, you just don’t think about things like that.”

CHEW is run solely by volunteers. Monetary donations go directly to the feeding mission. It takes about $12,000 to feed Wilson’s chronically hungry children each month. The nonprofit has estimated that for the two-week holiday break, it will cost about $40,000 to feed nearly 600 hungry children. But they hope the community will think about those children each time they shop at the grocery store from now until Christmas.

"It’s important we get the word out to everybody,” Baker said. "If every family would pick up an extra few (food items) and drop them off, we could fill this trailer up.”

The food drive event will last from now until Dec. 23. Large trailers are stationed at two locations for the community to drop-off nonperishable food items. The Walmart parking lot location is open on Mondays through Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Shoppes at Brentwood location is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Churchwell’s Jewelers, Vaughan’s Jewelers and Quince will also be collecting food items at their businesses.

Food items needed include:

• Canned vegetables, fruits and meats

• Dry milk

• Fruit juice (small boxes)

• Peanut butter

• Soup

• Mac and cheese

• Canned spaghetti and ravioli

• Ramen noodles (big item)

• Instant oatmeal and grits

• Healthy cereals

©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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