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Struggling Food Banks Get Help From McCrory Administration

Michael Tomsic

Food banks in North Carolina that are struggling to keep up with high demand are getting emergency relief from Governor Pat McCrory's administration. McCrory announced Monday they'll split $750,000 over the next few weeks, in part to help them get through the partial government shutdown. But demand at food banks has been rising since before the shutdown and can also be traced to changes on the state level.

Food crates stacked two stories high fill a large warehouse at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte. But Executive Director Kay Carter said none of it stays here for long.

"We basically are in the business of bringing in as much food as we can and moving it out as quickly as we can," she said.

Food Banks supply food pantries, homeless shelters and other groups across the state.

Alan Briggs is the executive director of the N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks. He said more people are turning to food pantries as the partial government shutdown furloughs workers and freezes funding for some nutritional programs.

"So as they lose these other available resources, they're coming to us in record numbers," he said.

To help, Governor McCrory's administration is giving food banks a $750,000 advance on money they'd get later in the year. The state Justice Department will follow up with an extra $2 million. That money comes from settlements with food and pharmaceutical companies. 

"This is additional money that the state is allocating through all the resources we can to deal with short-term needs," McCrory said at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte. "But again, these are just Band-Aids to a serious problem if the shutdown continues."

The partial shutdown could absolutely make the problem worse. But food banks were already struggling before October.

Kay Carter describes a scene at a Second Harvest meeting back in August:

"Not a single food pantry of all of our food pantries - and we probably have 300, 350 - said they had seen a decrease in demand," she said. "Across the board, everyone is seeing an increase."

Carter said the state's slow recovery is partly to blame, as unemployment remains stubbornly high. 

But changes made by state lawmakers and the governor are also part of the problem. For example, Republicans in control of the General Assembly slashed unemployment benefits this year.

"That is certainly having an impact on the number of people coming through our doors," said Rodney Adams. He's director of Mecklenburg County's Department of Social Services Economics Division.

When people come to social services but the county doesn't have resources to help them, the county refers them to food pantries. 

In August, Adams says Mecklenburg County made more than three times as many referrals as it usually does. That was related to another state change – the troubled rollout of a new electronic system for food stamp applications, called NC FAST.