Early on in the Spring semester at Appalachian State University, Dr. Wendy Winn assigned her Seminar in Professional Writing class, along with a partnership with High Country Press, a project centered around journalism. In a series of 7 feature articles, the students in Dr. Winn’s class were all assigned a nonprofit organization throughout Watauga County with which they did a full story about.
The first out of the seven articles is by Eden Estabrook, and it covers the Hunger and Health Coalition, raising awareness of the nonprofit that finds its home right in the High Country that deserves more recognition and support from the community.
Support Hunger and Health Coalition and Help Spread Kindness, Hope and More to Those In Need
When Elizabeth Lee interned at Hunger and Health Coalition during her undergrad years at Appalachian State University, she never expected to find herself back in the mountainous college town of Boone as a full-time staff member. Now she’s the HHC’s volunteer coordinator, and she’s hard at work helping to make a difference in the Watauga County area.
Hunger and health needs are an ever-present problem in our area. With unpredictable mountain weather, when hard times hit, they hit hard. With that in mind, the HHC strives to provide food, medicine and winter wear in the High Country for those who just need a helping hand.
As a staff member, Lee has seen the need of the people of Watauga County and how HHC has been able to answer the call with the help of the small staff, volunteers and, most importantly, support from the community.
HHC is based in Boone and mainly services the Watauga County area, although its pharmacy services have been expanded to Ashe. While HHC’s title references its food and medical services, it provides more than that to those in need
“We try as an organization to help eliminate food insecurity in Watauga County, but we also try and help with things such as medications, so if clients can’t afford medicine we absolutely try and help with that,” Lee said. “Firewood, since it does get super cold in the winter, and clothing, as well. Basically, while we can’t provide financial help for our clients, we do try and eliminate a lot of the issues that come with being in poverty.”
HHC focuses its mission on locals who fall below the federal poverty line —people who are struggling to make ends meet and provide essentials like nourishment, medications and warm clothes for them and their families.
HHC was founded in 1982 in one of the closets at Boone United Methodist Church. Founder Joan Carter, with the help of friends and the church community, answered the call when her local community expressed a need for food. The organization was started in response to a multitude of requests for food in the area by a group of locals who wanted to fulfill the needs. Quickly, the organization began to grow, relocating twice during its first nine years.
Looking back, Lee sees this rapid growth as a testament to the need in the community.
“There was the big realization that that just wouldn’t cut it for our county,” Lee said. “26.2 percent of Watauga County falls below the federal poverty line. Twenty-five percent of that are food insecure and 18 percent of those are kids.”
As necessary, the organization grew. HHC added a variety of additional food programs, pharmaceutical services and various winter relief programs that are used and appreciated today by many. Among some of these is its Food Recovery program, its free pharmacy and its Prescription Assistance program.
“We have our Food Recovery Program, where people can come and get pre-made meals, so if you just need lunch, you can just come in and pick one up,” Lee said.
“We also have our Prescription Assistance coordinator, and her job is to hook people up that need certain medications that have yet to become generic but are very expensive and don’t have insurance. For example, Hepatitis C medication roughly costs $1,000 a day. With the program, we have been able to get five clients that medication, and now they are Hepatitis C free.”
In addition, the services couldn’t be easier to access. Its food programs are offered based on a trust policy, meaning that if someone comes in requesting food because of a need, the staff members don’t ask questions.
Due to medical necessities, the pharmacy has tighter restrictions and requires an application. Even with an application, HHC still strives to make it easy to access. No appointment is needed. Anybody can call or just walk in to receive help promptly.
HHC’s daily operations are run by 10 full-time staff team and many wonderful volunteers. More than that, HHC is powered by the community, in that it relies on donations and fundraising for most of its overall funding.
“We have an event in April called Empty Bowls that the high school puts on for us. It’s really cool because not only do you involve community members who want to purchase the bowls and support our organization, but you get local artists involved who make the bowls and you get local high school students involved who help put everything together,” Lee said. “So, in a weird way, it’s cool that we rely on the community for a lot of our funding because it’s a great way for everybody to get together to help better one another.”
The HHC counts on volunteers to assist with a plethora of activities, including administrative work, managing programs and processing meals, in addition to contributing to funding. Word of mouth is HHC’s go-to for spreading information about its mission and needs, and volunteers play a large role in that.
Lee shared that the organization struggles when ASU has a break, especially summer and Christmas breaks. Since many of its volunteers are ASU students, its steady flow of help leaves during these breaks. To the HHC, volunteers do more for the organization than just provide program assistance. They are a vital part of the organization’s personal growth.
“We get to work with people in various majors at the university. The interns are so great and they bring a new perspective every semester and it really helps, in my opinion, to improve the organization,” Lee said.
Every volunteer brings their own unique experiences and talents to the organization. While ASU provides a large chunk of the volunteers and interns, they are not the only demographic that serves at HHC. Some clients come in and volunteer their time to the organization, too.
For Lee, the clients she serves are one of her favorite things about her job. Her face glows when she talks about the people she gets to interact with every day. She recounts the Christmas cards, the good conversations, and appreciative natures of HHC clients, as well as how happy it makes her to see them thrive as a result.
The clients were one of the reasons she jumped at the opportunity to come back to Boone and work for HHC. After completing a psychology degree at ASU, she planned to go home and work in therapy. However, when she got the call asking if she wanted to return to HHC as an employee, she didn’t think twice about it.
“I just so love the clients here and the people I get to work with that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Lee said. “I love my job.”
The clients are also a huge motivator for Lee in her job. One of her personal goals is to combat the stigmas and misconceptions that are often associated with people who seek help from the HHC. Lee says most of those clients are grateful, kind-hearted people who have simply hit hard times, and she strives to break the stereotypes that bind them.
Spreading this positive message of understanding and helping those who have hit a rough patch in their life is what drives Lee in her work. As the volunteer coordinator, she gets to meet with future volunteers and interns and share this piece of her heart as others desire to learn more about the organization and how they can help with the mission.
Lee would love to meet with you, too. If you are interested in volunteering at HHC, call or email her at 828-262-1628 or email@example.com. Especially if you are a local, or a student staying through the summer, she would love to talk to you about volunteering opportunities over school break periods.
If volunteering is a challenge at this point in your life, some immediate needs can be easily answered by simply donating fresh produce. All you have to do is buy it and then drop it off at HHC. To learn more about the organization and other ways you can help, like the Empty Bowls event, click here.
Hunger and Health Coalition
141 Health Center Drive, Suite C,
Boone, NC 28607