Durham County

United Way enlists volunteers in fight against summer hunger

Volunteers walk an assembly line creating meal and reading kits for Durham area students on June 21, 2017, in Durham, NC.
Volunteers walk an assembly line creating meal and reading kits for Durham area students on June 21, 2017, in Durham, NC. gturner@heraldsun.com

The United Way of the Greater Triangle held its annual “Day of Action” Wednesday morning, assembling 1,500 weekend meal and reading kits for Durham area students.

In partnership with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the United Way had nearly 100 volunteers arrive at Durham Central Park. Many came from local companies, such as Bank of America, Principal Financial Group and Pier 1 Imports.

Amber Simmons, child hunger program supervisor at the food shuttle, says the event’s ultimate goal was making a difference this summer for hungry children.

“Childhood hunger does not take a break over the summer,” she said.

With just one event each year, Simmons said, the impact she is able to make by packing food for 400 children in less than a hour is both a blessing and miraculous.

Volunteers began at one end of a line of 12 food stations, with one or two United Way volunteers at each station to help restock. Each station provided a certain quantity of food for each volunteer to place into their kit. Meals provided included cans of chicken, tuna, corn, spaghetti and meatballs and bags of grits or oatmeal.

After completing their meal kit with a free book, volunteers returned back to the start of the line to restart the packaging process. Each kit was to provide seven meals over the course of four weeks, with a rotation of 50 volunteers taking about five to 10 minutes.

John Oguntoye, a volunteer originally from Missouri, says he wanted to help despite not being from North Carolina.

“I know Durham is a wonderful, lively place so I wanted to be involved with the community,” he said.

Oguntoye, who works as an intern on the United Way’s community development team, attended N.C. State University and says he looked for a way to give back to the community.

The United Way’s mission was to tackle summer hunger in children living in impoverished homes, distributing food via the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to six separate summer programs.

One in four Durham children live in a home where the head of the household’s income is at or below poverty level, with 13 percent living where the income is at or below 185 percent of poverty. The marker of 185 percent of poverty defines the threshold for eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches for students.

An annual household income of $24,250 was considered poverty level in 2015 for a family of four, and $44,863 was considered 185 percent of poverty. Durham had a poverty rate of 23.1 percent in 2015, higher than the state average of 21.8.