CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Mecklenburg County's network of food pantries, Loaves & Fishes, is on pace to feed up to 14 percent more people in 2017, the agency says.
That translates to a total of 77,000 people, with 48 percent of them children.
Statistics on the county's hungry residents were released Wednesday as Loaves & Fishes braces for one of its busiest periods. It predicts as many as 3,000 people will be served in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Tina Postel said her agency has never had to turn away hungry people because of a lack of food in its 42 years. She's hoping to keep it that way.
"Thanksgiving is a time when it's all about the family and the meal, so we're going to be in a bad spot if we can't meet the need," said Postel. "We need to think about hungry people and rise to the occasion. … What the data shows us is that despite our overall healthy economy and rapid growth in Charlotte, we are seeing a spike in need for those individuals and families stuck in lower income brackets."
To address the growing demand, the agency has opened four new full-size pantries in specific high-need neighborhoods, she said. It has also established partnerships with Central Piedmont Community College, Johnson C. Smith University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to make sure financially struggling students aren't going hungry. Six emergency food pantries are being established on the campuses.
Loaves & Fishes released the results of its annual client survey Wednesday, which revealed that more than half the people who visited its 30 pantries were using the money they saved on food to pay rent. Just over 25 percent said they were using the savings to pay utility bills and 15 percent were using it for medication, the survey showed.
The agency worked with UNC-Chapel Hill this year to correlate the data with broader poverty statistics in Mecklenburg County and confirmed that there is a "crescent of poverty surrounding Charlotte." That crescent runs along the western side of the city, straddling Interstates 85 and 77.
It's within that crescent that most of the new pantries were established, including sites at Hope Covenant House, near Brookshire and I-85; Northeast Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Hidden Valley; Shiloh Institutional Baptist Church, near West Morehead Street and Wilkinson Boulevard; and Nations Ford Community Church, near Nations Ford and Tyvola Road.
How to help
Loaves & Fishes: To donate food, drop off nonperishable items at any Loaves & Fishes pantry during their regular operating hours or at the charity's warehouse. Find a list of locations and hours at www.loavesandfishes.org/food-pantries/. For questions about a food donation, call 704-523-4333.
Priority needs include:
Canned pastas (SpaghettiOs, ravioli, etc.)
Corn muffin mix
100 percent fruit Juice
(For safety, no glass, please.)
Monetary donations may be mailed to Loaves & Fishes, 648 Griffith Road, Suite B, Charlotte NC 28217, or made online at www.loavesandfishes.org.
Harris Teeter: The grocery chain's stores are collecting nonperishable food items in red barrels through November.