Orange County Gears Up for Summer Hunger

Susan Romaine, second from left, and Christine Cotton, third from left, deliver food to Burmese refugee families in Carrboro. The women, along with Debbie Horwitz, founded the food relief agency PORCH in 2010. The agency now serves 380 families a year. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

By Tammy Grubb / tgrubb@newsobserver.com 

CHAPEL HILL- Over 6,000 children could go hungry at some point this summer in Orange County, according to hunger relief agencies. While many receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year — about 30 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City students and roughly 44 percent of Orange County students — the programs break for summer, leaving families to pick up the cost.
The 12 Orange County food pantries served by PORCH report the demand is steady and growing, said Debbie Horwitz, a co-founder of the Carrboro nonprofit.

TABLE also saw a recent spike in the number of needy children, program director Laura Dille said. The agency fills the backpacks of 550 local students with weekend meals, she said, and is working with Weaver Street Market to continue that program through the summer for up to 450 children.

“We just expect that to continue, because Chapel Hill is a pretty expensive place to live,” Dille said. “There’s a lot of people working hard — in (food service) or landscaping or cleaning — and they are not able to provide for their families on that income.”
Horwitz noted at least 95 percent of PORCH’s families have at least one parent who works a full-time job.

Brenda CampWeaver Street Market has responded to the demand by expanding its Round Up! program for food relief, said Brenda Camp, community outreach director. The program asks shoppers to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar and donates the proceeds to a different group every three months.

Customers have donated $15,750 in the last two weeks, all to support TABLE’s 10-week summer program, Camp said. At that rate, they could raise $100,000 for TABLE by the end of summer, she said. A $120 donation can feed a child every weekend from June to August, Dille said.

The program also will support the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, the IFC and Orange Congregations in Mission food pantries, and PORCH’s Food for Families program.

Nonprofit officials noted the Weaver Street partnership also helps get food at wholesale prices, stretching dollars to feed more people. Weaver Street donations support 150 of the 380 families that PORCH serves, Horwitz said.

But even with available resources, Dille said, one of the biggest challenges is finding hungry children during the summer break. That’s where the Food for the Summer program helps, by bringing the Chapel Hill- Carrboro schools and other partners under one umbrella.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger spearheaded the Food for the Summer launch last summer. The federally funded program posted roughly 650 volunteers at 16 neighborhood sites, where they served 48,000 lunches, led activities and handed out 3,500 free books.
Hemminger’s aide, Jeanne Brown, said this week the program is recruiting volunteers and finalizing this summer’s sites. The program will run from June 12 to Aug. 25.

More enrichment activities are also being planned this year, Brown said, from the Chapel Hill Public Library’s summer reading program to a possible partnership with the Morehead Planetarium and a Youth Ambassador program for older students. The Youth Ambassador program, sponsored in part by the PTA Council, will give the students a chance to take on leadership roles and work with younger children, she said.

“We’ve been doing outreach work early through the social workers, and PORCH and TABLE, so the hope is to increase the number of meals, because we know that there are kids living in the various communities (not being served),” she said. “I think the hope is that the Youth Ambassadors — by having kids within the community that parents trust and know — makes it feel comfortable for them to send their kids.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926