Organization working to fill gaps for rural N.C. residents relying on SNAP benefits

Nearly 17 percent of people in Avery County live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Many of them rely on SNAP benefits to get by.
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 9:39 PM EDT
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AVERY COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Living on a low income means finding healthy food can be hard.

If you’re looking for dinner at the grocery store, a salad kit from Walmart will run you about $3.68.

Meanwhile, a box of Kraft Mac‘n Cheese is just 98 cents, a can of Chef Boyardee the same 98 cents and a family-size bag of Great Value chips is just $1.54.

A study by Harvard found that eating healthy costs someone about $1.50 more per day. That’s $550 per year.

It’s why there’s a law that’s meant to give people living on low incomes more access to healthy food, but it’s not being followed.

Our national investigative team found it’s because the agency in charge has taken years to put the new law into action.

Nearly 17 percent of people in Avery County live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Many of them rely on SNAP benefits to get by.

WBTV is sharing one local group’s mission to get more resources out, showing how Ram’s Rack is filling some gaps.

“This area has the very rich and the very poor,” Janet Millsaps, director of Reaching Avery Ministry, said.

“Reaching Avery Ministry is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that was organized 39 years ago by a group of local pastors that were seeing needs in the community. In a normal year, the food stamp or SNAP program does not sufficiently cover the needs for the families, a lot of times,” Millsaps said. “This is a real small area so community is very tight. Three grocery stores - there’s no big-chain superstores here in the county. We drive 30-45 minutes, either way, to come across places like that.”

“The needs are probably not a lot different in Avery County than any other area. There is a mountain of pride. Our board of directors has always been very concerned that we’re finding the needs, because a lot of times people don’t ask, don’t want to ask,” Millsaps said. “During COVID we helped a lot of families that had never asked for any kind of assistance. And we heard repeatedly as they come through, ‘this is the first time we’ve ever had to do this, this is the first time we’ve ever had to ask for any kind of assistance.’ And it’s humbling to a family that has to ask for help or for assistance.”

“My situation started back in around 2015 or so 2014, I started getting grafts in my legs because I got a vicious artery disease. So when it started with the back surgeries, and then this. No, I never expected this. So I didn’t know what I was going to do out here because there’s no work out here for a gentleman like me,” SNAP recipient Robert Hedrick said. “Since the COVID, I’ve been getting food stamps. But before that, no, I was only getting $15 a month. Yeah, I struggle, I just lost these legs so I’m still struggling but the assistance really helps.”

“There’s many needs out there that are unmet. And we try to help fill in those gaps and help those needs,” Millsaps said.

“If they have it, they’re going to make sure you eat and that’s awesome. You’re not going to starve up here. It’s awesome, it’s God-sent, so you won’t go hungry out here - and that’s a good thing,” Hedricks said.

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