Our Opinion: Hope Station combats hunger, promotes health

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THUMBS UP to the Hope Station, which is pioneering a new model for community food pantries that will result in healthier and happier families.

The Wilson nonprofit offers a client-choice food pantry, with eligible low-income adults able to select the right food items for their families’ tastes. But it’s also providing “shopping assistants” to encourage nutritious choices. Clients aren’t pressured to take what they won’t eat; rather, Hope Station works with individuals one-on-one to ensure they have a wide range of quality, healthful options.

Program participants also receive free weight, body-mass index, blood pressure and weight measurements, meeting monthly with Barton College nursing and nutrition students. The screenings allow clients to track their health as they make changes to their diet with help and support from caring community members

Nancy Harrell has shed nearly 40 pounds since starting the program and credits the efforts of Hope Station staff and volunteers with improving her day-to-day well-being.

The Healthcare Foundation of Wilson provided a $30,000 grant, enabling Hope Station to launch the program. Both the foundation and its deserving recipient deserve credit for the early success.

We support the model of voluntary participation, client choice and nutrition education and believe most people are willing to work toward a healthier lifestyle with the right range of options and encouragement.

By improving health measures and lowering health care costs, programs like this may help some low-income Wilsonians escape the cycle of poverty. Kudos to the forward-thinking folks who are making this happen.

THUMBS DOWN to North Carolina legislators who blocked a bill to protect free-speech rights on university campuses from advancing during a Wednesday committee hearing.

The House Education Committee on Universities deadlocked 6-6 on House Bill 527, the Restore and Preserve Campus Free Speech Act. The tie vote means the bill remains bottled up in committee, though legislative leaders could use other tactics to maneuver it through the process.

UNC general counsel Tom Shanahan expressed concern about the bill’s requirement that students who disrupt speeches and expressive events face penalties and its provision requiring universities to remain neutral on political matters.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, asked whether the latter provision would prevent research professors from opposing climate change, according to the Durham Herald-Sun’s coverage of the hearing.

While the neutrality requirement is intended only to bar public universities from requiring faculty, staff or students from being forced to espouse or express political views they may not share, we would not object to a committee substitute rewording this provision.

HB 527’s main objective is to strike down college speech codes that can be used to punish students for expression that is clearly protected by the First Amendment. Fifteen of the 16 UNC institutions maintain these unconstitutional rules, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Few bills are perfect upon their introduction, but that’s what amendments are for. Lawmakers shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.