At the age of thirteen I moved from India to the U.S., specifically the Garden State of NJ. As a teenager the move to a new country was hard on many levels and within two years my family was already moving to NC. I had never heard of North Carolina before I moved there and little did I know then that I would be proud to call myself a North Carolinian and a Tarheel for years to come! My immigrant family was received with southern love and curiosity by the locals and I often enjoyed the opportunity to share stories about my background from India. I was reminded of my early years in NC as I had a chance to visit Feeding America-member Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh in early July for Hunger Free Summer site visits. The location of the food bank brought back many memories for me as it’s located in the backyard of my family’s first home in NC.
I was received by the staff at the food bank with same warmth I remember from NC in my early years. I had a chance to meet the CEO, Peter Werbicki, upon arrival and was hosted by Gideon Adams, senior manager of programs and outreach and Tyler Weidig, summer food service supervisor, for two Hunger Free Summer site visits. We started the day early to arrive at our first site in Selma, NC (approximately 45 min. from the food bank) well before the 9am start time to see the site in action. I had a chance to chat with Gideon and Tyler on our drive and I quickly learned that Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is truly a community food bank. When it comes to summer feeding the food bank is trying to reach children all over its service who are food insecure. They are stretching all available resources to feed hungry children throughout the summer.
In Selma, we were met by James who is the feeding program site coordinator and uses a van to drive around the neighborhood and bring children to the feeding site. James is exactly who you want him to be – passionate, dedicated, driven, and honest. He is focused on reaching each and every house in the community and building trust with the families to allow their children to leave the house in the summer for breakfast and lunch. We saw families slowly trickling in and getting a break from the heat while they enjoyed their breakfast. James shared the challenges of starting a new summer feeding site and going house to house to introduce himself to the families. He was planning a cookout in his off hours to invite all the families in the surrounding area of the feeding site so “people get to know each other.” In the end, it’s all about relationships and James is doing the hard work on the ground for outreach and participation. The food bank staff expressed their gratitude to grant funding from ConAgra Foods Foundation to maintain and expand its summer feeding program in addition to creating local jobs with caterers for summer feeding programs.
Our next stop was a lunch site closer to the food bank. A new site for the food bank this year, this site offered open and closed feeding options. The closed site was children enrolled in the church’s summer camp and these children received a hot lunch while the open site recipients received a cold lunch. This particular site was my first vegetarian site! I was smiling ear to ear watching children enjoying fresh salad and soy-based options for the cold lunch. The amazing volunteers at this site were so professional, dedicated and eager to make their site a happy place for all the children receiving lunch there. They were even resourceful enough to borrow a circus tent from a sister church for the summer so that children and families could a) find the site easily and b) get a break from NC heat while having lunch. The ingenuity of our food banks and volunteers across the country continues to amaze me.
I left my site visits feeling so blessed to be working with a network of individuals who find their work rewarding, ready to serve their community and not taking “no” for an answer. Go Heels!
*Jaspreet Bindra is a programs specialist at Feeding America.