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Hunger, Homelessness on Rise in High Country; Appalachian Responds During National Awareness Week

By Megan Northcote

Appalachian Ambassador students set up their “Beat Hunger” Canned Food Drive donation truck beside “The Rock” near Kidd Brewer Stadium at ASU before Saturday’s game against Furman University. Photo by Megan Northcote

Nov. 12, 2012. Four dollars and forty-five cents. That was all.

Appalachian State University student Sara Lafone never thought she’d be limited to $4.45 in Food Stamps to purchase one day’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

She got by.


Yesterday, she ate two eggs, some shredded cheese and toast for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and small servings of beans, rice and vegetables for dinner.

Lafone is among several ASU students participating in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)/Food Stamp Challenge, a nationwide initiative created by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), which challenges individuals to eat at the Food Stamp poverty level for one week.

In North Carolina, that’s $31.15 per week, $4.45 per day.

In honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which started last Saturday and ends Nov. 17, several ASU campus organizations are hosting events to raise awareness about local and global poverty and hunger, Selena Hileman, ASU’s Associate Director of Community Service for Appalachian and Community Together (ACT), said.

One of these organizations, the Student Association for Social Work, is sponsoring the Food Stamp Challenge this week.

“I can’t eat what I normally eat,” Lafone said. “It’s time consuming to cook at home, but in order to eat healthy and not eat fast food, that’s what I have to do.”

According to a July 2011 FRAC report, nearly 16.2 percent of North Carolina’s population were receiving food stamps, nearly double the 835,180 North Carolinians on the program in September 2005.

Yet, the program has its flaws.

Lafone, a social work major, said a lot of people feel frustrated with the Food Stamp program, particularly when they don’t receive enough benefits to support themselves and are often cut off from the program too quickly once landing a minimum wage job.

Hunger and Homlessness, in general, are on the rise in the High Country.

Appalachian Ambassador students set up their “Beat Hunger” Canned Food Drive donation truck beside “The Rock” near Kidd Brewer Stadium at ASU before Saturday’s game against Furman University. Photo by Megan Northcote

The current poverty rate in Watauga County is nearly 25 percent, almost five times higher than the state average and ten times higher than the national average, Todd Carter, Director of Development at the Hospitality House of Boone, said. According to the United States Census Bureau, between 2006 and 2010, the Watauga County poverty rate averaged 24.8 percent, with North Carolina averaging 15.5 percent.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about homelessness and poverty in the High Country is that it doesn’t exist because you don’t see people sleeping on the streets at night,” Hileman said. “It’s more difficult for people living in Boone in a developed country to understand Third World poverty. People have forgotten that extreme poverty exists in Southern Appalachia.”     

In the High Country, a lack of affordable housing is most to blame for the rising number of homeless residents, Carter said.

The Hospitality House of Boone is the only homeless shelter in northwestern North Carolina, serving a seven county area including Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey Counties.

This year, the Hospitality House has seen a dramatic increase in the number of homeless clients and currently has a waiting list of 85 people hoping to stay in the shelter, Carter said.

A shortage of food to meet rising demands is also plaguing the High Country.

As the only community kitchen open seven days a week in the area, the Hospitality House serves 12,000 meals per month, more meals than 70 percent of all the restaurants in the High Country, Carter said.

The Health and Hunger Coalition of Boone, currently serving over 1,000 impoverished families per month, has experienced a decrease in food donations from their primary food provider, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, who is also receiving fewer donations, Compton Fortuna, Health and Hunger Coalition Executive Director said.

A family of four living at poverty level might only make $3,800 a month and $46,000 annually, which is not nearly enough to provide for all basic needs, she said.

“With less income coming in and expenses for fuel to heat homes in the winter increasing, it makes it especially hard for impoverished people living in the High Country,” Fortuna said. “We’re providing the food so hopefully these families can spend their money to meet other needs.”

Each year, a week before National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Appalachian Ambassador Canned Food Drive, the largest annual food drive in Watauga County, donates thousands of pounds to the Health and Hunger Coalition.

The week-long drive, this year themed “Beat Hunger,” ended Monday (today) and was on target for surpassing last year’s 9,000 pound donation, Madisson Barnett, food drive chair said. 

Last week, donation bins were placed in front of ASU’s on-campus markets and inside Ingles grocery store and Food Lion on 321. ASU Residence halls and Greek life organizations also held joint food drives.

Madisson Barnett, Appalachian Ambassador Canned Food Drive Chair, hopes people who donate will take a few minutes to learn about the rising issue of poverty and hunger in the High Country. Photo by Megan Northcote

As an incentive to donate, tickets to the Chancellor’s suite for the Black Saturday football game against Furman were raffled to ASU students, Watauga County High School, Ashe County High School and the community, along with gift cards from local businesses.

“Our food donations are supposed to provide a lot of nutritional variety for food distributed [at the Health and Hunger Coalition] during the holidays,” Barnett said. “I’m just so glad we have a place to donate all our food. It’s so easy for college students to overlook the needs of those around us.”

For a complete listing of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week events sponsored by ASU from Nov. 10-17, go to: http://act.appstate.edu/hungerhomelessness

To follow ASU Food Stamp Challenge participant experiences, visit their blog at: whathungerfeelslike.tumblr.com