By Marianne Minton
Jan. 27, 2015. High Country residents know from experience that the winters bring freezing temperatures, blustering winds and snowy storms, turning our mountain paradise into Jack Frost’s own picturesque snow globe. Many of us snuggle up under a warm blanket, brew some hot cocoa, eat until our bellies are stuffed and enjoy this winter wonderland from safely inside out homes.
Could you even imagine trying to endure these harsh conditions without guaranteed warm meals, or watching your children go to bed hungry at night?
Sadly, this is a grim reality for a surprising number of our High Country neighbors. According to the U.S. Census, 26 percent of people in Watauga County are living below the poverty line, which is a whopping statistic for our tight-knit community. However, there are ways in which we can all help.
The Hunger and Health Coalition is a nonprofit organization that has been helping to relieve hunger and revitalize the lives of our community members since 1982. Located at 141 Health Center Dr. in Boone, the main office is open from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached by phone at 828-262-1628.
“The Hunger and Health Coalition is always in need and very appreciative of any and all help we receive from the community,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Young.
There are many avenues that folks can use to become involved with the organization.
Year-round, the organization can greatly benefit from the donation on non-perishable and fresh foods, clothing, firewood, books, electronics and other items that an individual may need to better their lives. The
organization also operates a full pharmacy where antibiotics and other medications are dispensed to those with conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and more.
Currently, the organization can benefit most from food items such as peanut butter and jelly, canned foods, pastas, breakfast foods as well as meat and produce to stock the fresh foods market. Those in need may access the fresh market every week and the food pantry every two weeks.
Especially in the wintertime, the Hunger and Health Coalition is in need of donations of warm coats, clothing and blankets as well as firewood for clients in need. Community members in need may visit the clothing store at any time necessary and can take home a full truck bed of firewood every two months.
Any of these items may be dropped off for donation during operating hours at the center, or pick up can be arranged from any local location.
Additionally, the Hunger and Health Coalition accepts monetary donations in the form of cash, check, credit card, Paypal and stock.
“With our purchasing power, we are able to buy $7 worth of food for every dollar donated, making every little bit of help stretch a long way,” Young said.
Even if you do not have the ability to donate, another easy way to contribute is to give a portion of your time, and the Hunger and Health Coalition is always accepting new volunteers. Volunteers are beneficial to the organization throughout the entire year, and can expect to help out with a variety of tasks including serving food, sorting clothing, unloading trucks, gardening, painting, general maintenance – anything and everything that the center might need to operate at
Those interested in volunteering their time may contact Director of Operations Crystal Winebarger.
“The primary action is for neighbors and friends to educate each other,” Young said.
“Something as simple as volunteering with our organization and interacting with our clients can be both a rewarding and eye-opening experience. We feel very strongly that one person’s struggle is our whole community’s struggle because each piece of the puzzle must be active and thriving to complete an entire picture.”
Young believes that the impact of volunteers and donors to the organization reaches further than a few meals and prescriptions.
“One in four children in the High Country suffers from food insecurity,” Young said. “Food insecurity directly impacts a child’s ability to learn new information and advance their future, and our goal is to try to tear down these boundaries that make it harder for them to succeed.”
The vitality of the Hunger and Health Coalition, and thus, the community as a whole should be at the top of the agenda. As Young succinctly believes, “A strong and empowered community makes for a happier, more engaged place to live.”