Facing hunger

Sep. 27, 2013 @ 06:40 PM

Two articles this week put a spotlight on hunger in our community and what people can do to help.
The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch reported earlier this week on the escalation in demand that food pantries, including the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, are experiencing. During July and August, the Food Bank saw 19,000 more Durham residents seek help than during the same period in 2012. The increase parallels problems that the state has had with new computer software that affects programs, including food stamps.
The software program, NC FAST -- North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology – will be a huge help both for clients and agencies once it works correctly. According to a N.C. Department of Health and Human Services press release, NC FAST will ultimately replace 19 legacy systems used by counties across the state with a single uniform method to determine eligibility and provide case management for families in need of county-administered state-supported services.
But the challenge is what to do until problems in the system can be addressed.
Food stamps are an absolutely essential part of our safety net. More than 50 percent of the households receiving benefits have children. People should not have to go without food.
DHHS chief Aldona Wos, whose department has had its share of distractions in the past couple of months, including dealing with the buggy NC FAST, has noted that many counties have found ways to make things work until the system is operating correctly.
We are assuming Durham is one of those to which she was referring.
Durham Department of Social Services Director Michael Becketts and his staff have been working overtime to whittle down the backlogged list of people who could not get food stamps.
Their frustration level has to be immense: “About two weeks ago, we couldn’t log in for five hours,” Becketts told The Herald-Sun. That’s more than half of a workday lost.
If the department finds someone in dire need of food, the agency is providing cards with a small amount of funds on them that can be used at a local grocery.
Sending clients to food pantries is a last resort, according to Becketts.
That takes us to the second article that appeared this week about hunger.
N.C. Central University student Daniel Ball, president of the Social Work Society at NCCU, said he has firsthand experience with having to go hungry. He is organizing a food drive to help meet the increased demand being placed on the Food Bank.
“Eagles Attacking Hunger” sought donations on campus Friday and will be collecting food outside the Walmart at 1010 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you get a chance, stop by with canned and dry goods. The $10 you spent on lunch Friday can purchase a lot of canned goods for families, elderly and disabled residents who greatly need it.