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How aware are elected officials about food hardship?

May 3, 2015
In The News

The High Point area’s hunger and food hardship crisis doesn’t appear starved for attention by local elected officials.

Politicians ranging from members of High Point City Council to U.S. Congress say they are acutely aware of the area’s unenviable ranking and want to address the problem. Both congressional representatives who serve the majority of High Point recently announced initiatives on hunger.
“It’s definitely huge and on the minds of all the civic leaders,” said High Point City Councilman Chris Williams.

The High Point-Greensboro area now ranks first in the country among metropolitan communities for food hardship, according to a survey released last month by the Food Research and Action Center.

But the ranking, while troubling, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The previous survey by the center, associated with the Gallup polling organization, found that the High Point area had the second-highest level of food hardship. Since the center began its telephone surveys of people across the country in 2008, the High Point area has ranked among the top 10 for food hardship each time. The question posed is, “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

The issue started receiving widespread attention last November when The High Point Enterprise published a series on the crisis, highlighting local residents who worry about where they’ll find their next fulfilling meal. Now a group of volunteers under the banner of the Greater High Point Food Alliance is following through on ideas to tackle the problem head-on.

Area elected officials say they have kept up with the unfolding campaign to address hunger and food hardship.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-12th, held a community roundtable in Greensboro to gather information and ideas on helping more area residents find steady access to healthy and hearty meals.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-6th, announced the formation of the Healthcare, Opportunity, Poverty and Education Commission, a nonpartisan, volunteer board composed of nonprofit and community leaders. The group of volunteers advising the congressman’s office will address issues such as hunger.

Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Hank Henning said he’s heartened by the approach in High Point “of rallying all of the charities and church organizations and existing resources in the community to see what can be done at the grassroots level.”

The most effective way of addressing the hunger problem is from the ground up in neighborhoods, said Henning, a Republican commissioner from High Point.

Mayor Bill Bencini said the City Council will offer support to the volunteers spearheading the campaign.

“I’m sure some of the suggested solutions are going to involve the council. The city government will support and encourage those efforts,” the mayor said.

The food hardship crisis has come up in discussions among High Point City Council members and community groups, Williams said. Several community groups have approached the council with a number of ideas, he said.

“Everything from creating an opportunity for community gardens or mobile food units to even the idea of incentives for grocery stores in underserved areas. We definitely are moving forward,” he said.

State Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said she has a long experience understanding food hardship through her professional role with the Piedmont Health Service and Sickle Cell Agency.

Her agency runs a food bank as part of reaching out to Guilford County residents seeking help with health problems such as sickle cell anemia and HIV. The High Point office is in the Southside community at 401 Taylor Ave.

“We pick up food from Second Harvest once a month. We have a whole lot of people coming through each week for food. It’s a very serious issue at each of my offices,” said Robinson, the lone High Pointer in the state Senate. “We have people come in who aren’t even our clients — these are people in communities that know we have food available and are hungry.”

Williams said he’s encouraged by so many people of different backgrounds coming together on their own free time to address the hunger problem.

“It’s good that we are all working to address it,” he said. “I think that as long as we keep the mindset of that it doesn’t matter where the idea comes from — if it’s a good idea, we are willing to work towards getting it taken care of.”