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AMY Wellness Foundation and High Country Charitable Foundation Combined Resources to Assist Food Insecurity in Avery County

Jim Swinkola 

By Nathan Ham

In extremely uncertain times and some critical food shortages for families, particularly in rural areas, the High Country Charitable Foundation and AMY Wellness Foundation in Avery County have been able to raise a total of $75,000 that will be distributed evenly to Feeding Avery Families and Reaching Avery Ministry to help distribute food to those in need.

The HCCF raised $50,000 and the AMY Wellness Foundation added in $25,000.

“The discussion started with the High Country Charitable Foundation’s desire to improve food banks within Avery County because of the pandemic we currently find ourselves in,” said HCCF member Jim Swinkola. “Feeding Avery Families and Reaching Avery Ministry are two premier North Carolina non-profits whose brand is impeccable.”

Todd Porter, who spoke on behalf of HCCF’s Jim Ward who is currently in Florida, said Jim’s enthusiasm and desire to be charitable gave him the desire to get involved. Porter’s family has been visiting Avery County since the 1970s and he recently purchased his own house in the county.

“I am grateful to be here. It’s an honor for me to see this operation really for the first time,” said Porter.

Accepting the check on behalf of Reaching Avery Ministry was Janet Millsaps.

“These are very scary times for all of us and they have hit us very hard and very fast. We were not prepared for any of this. This pandemic is uncharted waters for all of us and the panic that we experienced as this began taking place was magnified by our clients,” said Millsaps. “As we ran out and stockpiled, they were not able to do that and we were able to sense and feel that same stress with our clients, so we have been very grateful that we have been able to help them.”

Reaching Avery Ministry saw their food distribution triple during the first month of his pandemic.

“There were some families that had never asked for help before, in some cases both parents had been laid off, not yet drawing unemployment, and their children are at home needing three meals a day when they usually get two meals at school,” Millsaps added. “We heard things like ‘I’ve never had to ask before’ or ‘I’m very embarrassed to ask for help’ so it’s very humbling to get to help these families. Without funding from the High Country Charitable Foundation and AMY Wellness Foundation, none of this would have been possible.”

Dick Larson represented Feeding Avery Families, another of the many organizations in the High Country having to deal with increased food demands from those less fortunate.

“When I joined Feeding Avery Families about three years ago, we were serving roughly 1,000 people a month with just under 14,000 pounds of food. This last month, we served over 1,500 people with just under 75,000 pounds of food. We’ve gone from 110 families a week to last week we served 192 families,” says Larson.

Feeding Avery Families has been instrumental in providing food to schoolchildren through the backpack program. However, with schools being closed to students for the remainder of the year, the school system has stepped up in a big way to help children. They are preparing and loading over 2,800 meals every day, taking them on buses to children’s homes five days a week.

“We have the resources, there is no reason for there to be hungry children in our school system. We have community pantries that we have placed at five of our schools that are having to be stocked every day because they are getting so much use,” Larson said.

The grant for Feeding Avery Families is just one of many ways that community organizations can come up with the resources needed to help feed Avery County residents.

“This check is a perfect example of how a community works together. None of us could do all of the things that we need to be done to make this happen. Who knows what’s going to happen with this virus and what will be the impact with some of this federal funding, but what this check means is that we will be in a position to respond to whatever that need is no matter where it comes from and for how long. It also means there will not be an excuse for a child to go hungry in Avery County,” said Larson. “We are blessed to have phenomenal volunteers and we are thankful to all of these organizations because it allows us to do what needs to be done.”

What Others are Saying

“Congrats Dick and Janet and to your incredible organizations that are doing amazing work for those in our community.  Avery County is truly blessed to have your leadership! To those that have made these programs possible and continue to support their sustainability,  thank you!  Without RAM and FAF many in our community would have nowhere else to turn. You all are making an unbelievable difference in so many lives.” — Trey Oakley, Williams YMCA of Avery County CEO
“I’m also incredibly grateful for the generosity of so many who have given, worked, prayed, and served to care for our neighbors right here in Avery County. Blessings to FAF and to RAM, to all those who share in ministry to this community, and to those whose work has made this amazing gift possible.” — Michael McKee
“This is great news for these two organizations and all the people in our community who benefit from their hard work and support! What a wonderful gift in such a critical time for our community! I’m sorry I cannot attend, but will certainly be thinking of everyone. I miss seeing all of you, and can’t wait until the day we get to sit around a table together again.” — Jesse Pope, President and Executive Director of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. 


Janet Millsaps (left) of Reaching Avery Ministry smiles as she holds a grant check from the AMY Wellness Foundation. Todd Porter (right) of the High Country Charitable Foundation presented the check on May 1. The grant was a result of cooperation between two foundations wishing to address the sharp rise in the needs of those in Avery County who find themselves food insecure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dick Larson (right) holds a grant from the AMY Wellness Foundation for Feeding Avery Families. Todd Porter (left) of the High Country Charitable Foundation presented the grant check on May 1. The grant was a result of cooperation between AMY Wellness Foundation and High Country Charitable Foundation to address the exploding challenge of meeting the food insecurity needs of Avery County.


The check presentation was made at the Feeding Avery facilities on Friday when volunteers were in full swing providing food supplies to families in Avery County.