By Kendall McGee | February 5, 2021 at 6:54 PM EST – Updated February 5 at 7:27 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – One of the first bills filed this legislative session aims to use $750,000 in state funds to build a new food bank in Wilmington.
House bill 14 was filed on January 28 by representatives Ted Davis, Charles Miller, Carson Smith and Brenden Jones. According to the bill, more than 107,200 people in the Cape Fear region are facing food insecurity, including 32,000 children and at least 29,000 senior citizens.
Advocates say the new facility will go a long way toward addressing the need in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties.
Leaders with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina began planning for this new facility back in 2019, long before the pandemic. The organization is already moving forward with the project, having purchased property on Greenfield Street. The hope is to break ground on the site this year so it can be completed by 2022.
The need is great for many families struggling under the pandemic, but Beth Gaglione, branch director with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC says the need has been critical for many years now as the community grapples with the fallout from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.
The new building will be 35,000 square feet. It’s a huge upgrade from the food bank’s current 12,000 square foot facility. The new facility will have educational programs, a community garden, workforce development opportunities and more cold storage to keep produce and meats.
“Retailers and food manufacturers are willing and able to provide us with healthy fresh food,” said said Beth Gaglione. “Fresh is best, but that also falls into the category of needing to be frozen or needing to be stored in cold storage. So where the food bank was about 20 years ago, was primarily one big room with a whole lot of racking. The food banks of the future are gonna look different — close to a third of their space being used to store that wonderful fresh nutritious food.”
Around 100 agencies partner with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, including Brunswick Family Assistance.
The shelves of the Shallotte food pantry are heavy with canned vegetables, fruits, and pastas now. Brunswick Family Assistance (BFA) Executive Director Stephanie Bowen says she’s thankful community drives have allowed them to provide for hundreds of needy families, but she knows the food on the shelves will be gone in anywhere between two and four months.
“As fast as it comes in, you know, we’re trying to get it out. Our goal is not to have food sitting here but to have food in people’s pantries and people’s stomachs,” said Bowen.
BFA traditionally serves people under the poverty line, but because of the pandemic, they’re seeing an influx of people who have never needed help before. The Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC says their partner agencies have seen a 38 percent increase across the board in people needing help with food.
The pandemic hasn’t spared anyone. People from all walks of life: families, business owners, and restaurant workers have visited the Brunswick County facility when their pantries were empty.
“People are genuinely grateful because without organizations like BFA and the other nonprofits in our county — where would they turn?” added Bowen.
As families across the nation navigate hard economic times, providers across eastern North Carolina are hopeful the future will be brighter.
“I think that as it relates to our future and having this larger space that we need to serve our community. I’m extremely optimistic about what the next six months to a year will bring in getting us closer to our goal,” said Gaglione.
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