By Meg Moss, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director
Just about a week ago, the Sanford Herald ran an article about the new and improved food pantry at the Christians United Outreach Center on Lee Avenue. I had the privilege of attending the launch of this new Client Choice Health Pantry on Tuesday of this week, and wanted to share with you my experience, and what I learned about individuals who are food insecure, both statewide, and in Lee County.
I have been to CUOC many times, donating clothing to the thrift store, shopping at the thrift store, and packing bags for backpack pals, so I am very familiar with what the space on Lee Avenue encompassed. When I walked in on Tuesday morning, it was an absolute breath of fresh air! The thrift store had been transformed into a beautiful mini-grocery store. And the thrift store now has a life of its own in a storefront building in downtown Jonesboro!
The isles of canned and dry foods, fresh vegetables, and refrigerated items were pristinely placed in the new pantry. The first thing I thought was, “what a great experience this will be for the people needing assistance with food.” They will feel like they are truly cherished, and they will have a choice of foods, which will eliminate food waste, and help the individuals feel empowered.
CUOC started in 2004 as a small organization helping people with food, and has now grown and evolved to include assistance with utility and rent payments, counseling, a thrift store, and now the Client Choice Healthy Pantry.
The Food Pantry of Eastern and Central North Carolina has now awarded CUOC with the gold standard for food pantries. There are hundreds of food pantries across the state, but only fifty have achieved gold status. This means that CUOC offers 100 percent food choice (other than meats) for clients.
A few other things I learned during the launch of the Client Choice Healthy Pantry are that fourteen percent of North Carolina residents are experiencing food insecurity. According to the Map the Gap/Feeding America organization, seventy-two percent of North Carolinians live below the SNAP 200% poverty threshold. In Lee County, fourteen percent of our population is food insecure (that’s over 8,000 people), and eighty-eight percent live below the SNAP 200% poverty threshold.
By providing client choice, and offering fresh foods, there is a medical benefit as well. In food insecure households, thirty-seven percent have at least one member who has diabetes, and sixty-nine percent have at least one member who has hypertension.
The Client Choice Healthy Pantry is a feather in the cap for Lee County. It proves once again that organizations and individuals come together to meet the needs of everyone in our community. A huge congratulations to CUOC, their Executive Director, Teresa Kelly, their Board of Directors, and their many volunteers.