The community kitchen Bread of Life opened its doors today for up to 40 hungry guests at a time to warm up, eat inside and have fellowship together.
It’s been 32 months since the pandemic closed the nonprofit’s dining room and abruptly switched meal distribution to takeaway-only.
Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, buns, pumpkin pie, fresh vegetable and fruit salads, cranberry sauce and gravy were all served up by volunteers for everyone who wanted to break bread together, no questions asked.
“It’s a community meal,” said Director Michael Collins of his organization’s annual celebration, which last year served 440 Thanksgiving takeaways. “It’s just wonderful that it’s such a community event. I think that’s what the word community means – “come into unity” – they come together. This is a meal that really shows that.”
This year’s meal took weeks to prepare by many hands.
“One of the schools helped us collect canned food for this, and the women of First Baptist Church made some of the filling,” Collins said. “There’s a homeschooling family that makes some of the cranberry sauce. We just keep adding more.”
The American Legion men’s group smoked half of the turkeys and Collins baked the others, 50 in all.
However, the increase in food costs is being felt across the county, especially by destitute Transylvanians.
“Our food costs are up 35 percent, and that’s our biggest cost concern,” Collins said. “This is the time of year when more people come… but we get more food in the summer and less food in the winter when we have more people. So that’s obviously why we can freeze and blanch to try to store it for the winter — or try to do as many canning operations as possible — to store food like squirrels.”
Increases in energy prices are also being felt, Collins said, as is gasoline needed to deliver hot meals around the county in the Bread of Life van and pay the building’s monthly bills.
“We’ve made some changes to the facility over the last few years to make it more energy efficient,” Collins said. “We have solar panels for our hot water and we now have better energy efficient appliances than we used to have. But all of these costs are offset somehow because they keep increasing energy tariffs for us as well.”
Other local organizations that provide food to the needy are also feeling the cost increases.
“Our numbers definitely show an uptick in demand,” said Shelly Webb, chief executive officer of Sharing House.
Every month, Sharing House distributes around £33,000 of groceries.
“We’ve already served 198 new homes this year, and most of that is driven by the cost of everything,” Webb said.
Compared to this time last year, the nonprofit has seen an 82 percent increase in new households in need of crisis assistance.
In addition, there was a 25 percent increase in people receiving food and a 25 percent increase in the number of meals provided.
“That’s big,” Webb said.
In response, Sharing House has adapted.
“We’ve definitely reduced the purchase of products,” she said. “So right now we’re only spending what’s been donated because the products are so expensive. Most of our produce comes from Food Lion and also from a few farmers who still donate but you know it’s seasonal. Food Lion is our number one donor in the county and every day we agree to pick up what they can’t sell. It’s still really good food, but it might not be what they want to put on their shelves, so we agree to pick it up every day, and then they also have programs aimed at helping against hunger. They are the ones selling the Christmas gift boxes and all of these are donated to us and we give them out.”
Bari Hernandez, Anchor Baptist’s food distribution coordinator, has worked at his camp for the past eight years.
He estimates their number has increased by about 25 percent since that time last year.
“We’re getting a lot of new people,” Hernandez said.
Last month, 1,100 families received food for 2,500 people.
“I used to fill up the truck for $100 a week, and now I’m spending about $190 a week to fill it up,” he explained, as he has to drive to pickup locations seven days a week.
“We run on natural gas, and what would have cost me $700 last year to heat the warehouse is $2,000 this year,” Hernandez said. “That’s huge.”
“People that we’re seeing are reporting that it’s getting harder for them,” said Barbara Grimm, executive chair of the Hunger Coalition and principal of the Davidson River School.
From January to September of this year, the Hunger Alliance fed more than 3,300 people in 1,200 households, which Grimm says is similar to the previous year.
“So maybe (it’s a) get poorer situation?” she commented when asked what she’s watching around the county.
“One of my teachers said they felt like there was a point where she could either buy groceries or buy gas,” she said. “A little over the top, but not that far off the mark for those on a budget.”
The Hunger Coalition is distributing 450 Thanksgiving and 450 Christmas lunch boxes to everyone who comes to regular distribution locations, in addition to recipients of the weekly lunch box and to students at the Davidson River School.
“Save the Children contacted me about a month ago with funds they had for our county and I was able to raise a $15,000 grant for Christmas lunch boxes,” Grimm said. “Our DRS kids have all packed their bags for the community and we think it’s a wonderful service project for them.”
Janette Broda, director of child nutrition at Transylvania County Schools, said rising food and utility costs are having “a major impact” on the school feeding program.
As previously reported, 51 percent of students across the district were eligible for a free or discounted lunch at the start of this school year.
“Before the school year started, our asking prices for groceries and supplies increased an average of 27 percent,” Broda said. “Over the course of the year we are seeing another 13 per cent increase in our food and supply chain. These price increases come from all of our suppliers including our major grocer, dairy and greengrocer.
“As a result of these price increases, we have had to make a difficult decision to increase the cost of meals for our families this school year.”
For the last two years during the pandemic, all meals at the district schools have been free.
The new lunch prices are up $1 across the board this school year.
Elementary school students are now paying $3.25 per lunch and middle and high school students are paying $3.50, down from the previously charged prices of $2.25 and $2.50 before the pandemic.
“Transylvania County Schools will provide 365 food bags during the Thanksgiving holiday,” Broda said. “These bags were purchased from Ingles and are filled with cans of chicken breast, mac and cheese boxes, rice, dry beans and muffin mix. Our Christmas bag distribution goes to needy students on December 15th and provides at least five breakfasts, lunches and snacks for students during the winter break.”
“I will say we see it throughout the year, but especially in the month of November, the generosity of our community, not just at Sharing House, but with all of us working to reduce food insecurity,” Webb added. “People are really generous and it’s just wonderful to see the collaboration and especially this year we like the Hunger Coalition, Neighbors in Ministry and Sharing House and Bread of Life are all working together to make sure people are getting enough to.” have food ”
The Hunger Coalition will be giving out free holiday food boxes on: December 8, 2:30-4:00 p.m., at Rosman Champion Park; December 15, 2:30-4:00 p.m., at Davidson River School; and December 22, 2:30-4:00 p.m., at the Quebec Community Center.
All non-profit organizations mentioned are currently accepting volunteer, food and cash donations.