MICHELLE T. BERNARD
In this day and age, when there’s a restaurant on every corner and several different chains of grocery stores throughout Lincoln County, it may be hard to believe that some children are going hungry. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 87.3 percent, or 109.3 million, U.S. households were food insecure throughout 2015. That’s an increase from 86 percent in 2014. Food insecurity means that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food.
Like many churches and organizations throughout the county, the parishioners of Asbury United Methodist Church are doing what they can to make a difference. The church’s backpack program began in 2009 serving just 11 students. Now they serve 58. Every week on Wednesday, a group of volunteers get together at Asbury Church and pack backpacks full of sealed, nonperishable food items to be delivered to students at Kiser Intermediate. More than 75 percent of the students attending Kiser qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the North Carolina Board of Education.
Other churches such as First Baptist, Hills Chapel and businesses like Timken support other schools within Lincoln County. Most of the funding for Asbury’s program comes from donations from parishioners, according to Asbury United Methodist Church pastor Ken Spencer.
Food Lion donated two shopping carts that are used to transport the bags from the church to Harold Edwards’ truck to be delivered to the school. When he arrives, the students help unload his truck.
“They’re always happy to help out,” he said. “The kids know who’s taking food know and who’s not, but nobody makes fun of them.”
Some of the students come from larger families so they get two bags, which they take home over two days. The only information about the children that the parishioners know is the number in the family so they can pack the appropriate amount of food. The food is intended to last over the weekend when the children may not have access to the meals they get while at school.
At the first of the year, Asbury Church provides the students they serve with hygiene and school supplies as well as a backpack, if they need it. On long weekends and over holidays or breaks, the church provides more food for those who get backpacks.
“There’s a specific emphasis with Methodist churches called ‘Congregations for Children’ where we’re encouraged to figure out how we can help area schools,” Spencer said. “We provide assistance to Kiser, Catawba Springs Elementary and Asbury Academy.”
Spencer, who spends a good bit of time at Asbury Academy due to his involvement with the Asbury Resource Center, said it’s not uncommon to see students come in to get breakfast at school and then leave.
“At Asbury Academy we do a big breakfast on testing days and by offering the breakfast the attendance is higher,” he said. “It’s also higher on backpack days.”
There was one family at Kiser that Asbury Church was helping and when the mother got a job she told the church that she would prefer that the help go to another family, according to Nancy Setzer, who leads the backpack program at Asbury Church. There is an application process conducted by the school that designates which families receive aid throughout the school year.