On Tuesday, August 7, MANNA Food Bank hosted a Food Summit in Newland, NC that brought together key players in the movement to end hunger. MANNA cites that there were 110 attendees that came from six counties. There were non-profit leaders, food pantry managers, farmers, business owners, grant makers, agriculture extension agents, church leaders, and health care professionals (to name a few). Although a general invitation was issued to local and regional government, there were no government officials in attendance at the summit.
The driving force behind the convergence was to address the issue of hunger in western North Carolina at a local level. In our region, 104,690 people do not have continuous access to food. This amounts to 1 in 6 people, and if you’re just looking at children, it increases to about 1 in 4.
Hosted at the Avery County High School, the day-long event started with an introduction from MANNA Executive Director to a full auditorium which was followed by a series of breakout sessions. Individual sessions focused on such topics as community gardens, reaching seniors, local food sourcing, and summer feeding programs. During the noontime hour, all attendees enjoyed an Empty Bowls lunch of soup, bread, and dessert which was paired, of course, with a handmade ceramic bowls.
The keynote speaker, Brady Koch, is the Director of Program Innovation at Feeding America. Rather than developing new systems for local communities to use, he primarily identifies himself as an idea “curator.” Working with groups across the nation, he identifies solutions that are successful in one area of the country and shares these solutions with other groups who may face similar obstacles.
The final session of the day was devoted to meetings by county. At the 20 person meeting of Yancey County residents, Executive Director Cindy Threlkeld overheard the comment “these are all people that I know who are working on these issues, but this is the first time we sat together in one room to talk about how we can look at this in a more comprehensive way.”
MANNA has plans to host similar events throughout the region. As part of the recent redistricting of their areas of service, the organization is making an increased effort to connect at the local level with those who are addressing hunger. According to Threlkeld, “The initiative for that event really came from a lot of the people in that room.” The organization intends to listen to each of the areas and learn what they are seeking in order to better address hunger. Refraining from a “cookie-cutter” approach, Threlkeld comments, “We don’t want to assume in our other zones, this is the way it will take shape.”
Events such as this one are unique opportunities to get all of the people in the same room. It was an opportunity to learn from each other about ways to solve problems and ways the community as a whole can continue working together on hunger issues. Although, many stories were shared about those who have benefited from the hunger assistance programs, everyone who attended had the privilege (luxury?) of a hot meal and a full stomach.
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