Efforts Underway To Feed Hungry In Area
United Way involved in efforts to help feed hungry and bring fresh food to those living in "food deserts."
Steve Lambright, Manager of Initiatives and Programs at United Way of Pickens County, sees his job simply.
“My job is to end hunger and homeless in Pickens County,” Lambright said. “And it can happen.”
The job description may be simple and straightforward, but the task is a difficult one.
“I can’t do it myself,” Lambright said. “United Way can’t do it by itself.”
He said United Way as a whole has begun reexamining its mission and its focus in recent years.
United Way has begun “taking huge strides” at examining its home communities and their needs, Lambright said.
“We’ve always been known as the way source for gathering money and then filtering it out to agencies, partnering with the agencies in the area” Lambright said. “We still do that to an extent, but we’re very focused on what is community impact, what are the best things we can do for the community.”
United Way of Pickens County identified two focus areas: hunger and homelessness.
The agency commissioned a “very intensive” hunger study.
That study concluded that one in 17 children in Pickens County is hungry.
Many residents in the area are “food insecure,” Lambright said.
“In other words, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” he said.
That often leads to inappropriate behavior, including hoarding food or overeating when food is available, Lambright said.
Many different organizations and agencies, including area food pantries, food banks, Rotary Clubs and municipalities, are coming together to feed the hungry.
A coalition has formed to address the issue, meeting on a regular basis, with a focus on two different areas.
“One is providing proper nutrition,” Lambright said.
Those living in poverty often do not have access to fresh food.
The cheapest, or most readily available, foods in their neighborhoods are often boxed or prepared foods, Lambright said.
The city’s community garden, established behind City Hall, aims to help address that issue. The garden’s harvest will be given to SHINE and area schools, to provide more people with fresh food.
“That’s really exciting,” he said. “That’s a partnership between the City of Easley and United Way of Pickens County.”
The city’s Farmers Market, held each Saturday morning in front of City Hall, could be taking to the streets in the near future.
United Way of Pickens County helped write a grant for the city for “a mobile farmers market,” Lambright said.
“If they get that grant, they’ll be able to buy a refrigerated truck and can use it two days a week to go out into areas – here in Pickens County, we have food deserts,” Lambright said. “These are areas where people are just too far from grocery stores and being able to get those fresh foods.”
People will be able to use their SNAP benefits card to purchase fresh produce, he said.
“How do we get food to the outlining areas of Pickens County?” Lambright said. “We have a lot of people living above Pickens, to the North Carolina border. What’s up there?
“Where do you go to shop?” Lambright said. “If you don’t have a car, you’re really in a hard shape, if the best place you can get something (to eat) is the convenience store. That’s an issue, that’s a problem.”
TheDream Center of Pickens County, once established, could have a centralized commercial kitchen that would help feed the hungry in the area, Lambright said.
“We have satellite places that could serve it,” he said. “If someone’s brining in the food, you don’t even have to cook it. You just need some volunteers to clean up afterwards.”
United Way hopes to enlist churches and community centers in the outlying areas of the county to help feed the hungry.
“That’d be really cool if we could see that nobody is too far away that they can’t get a meal – at least one solid meal a day,” Lambright said. “That would be a huge step toward ending hunger here in Pickens County.”
The Easley Farmers Market provides a $5 to buy produce with for those who purchase from the Farmers Market using their SNAP card, Lambright said.
The other area the coalition is focused on is homelessness. Efforts are underway to become a Family Promise affiliate.
The Family Promise network uses churches to house homeless families and help them get out of poverty.
“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up,” Lambright said. “It’s moving people toward financial stability.”
He hopes to have the Family Promise program set up in Pickens County by next summer.
The next public meeting about Family Promise is slated for Tuesday, July 24 at the Carr Center at West End Hall in Easley.
“Between hunger and homelessness, I have over 150 volunteers meeting on a regular basis, saying ‘What can we do about this?’ What can we do about transportation? What can we do about mental health needs? What can we do about getting the word out there, around all these different needs?
“We’re excited and we want the community to be excited, too,” Lambright said.
Anyone interested in joining the coalition or volunteering, should contact Lambright by phone at 864-850-7094, ext. 108 or by email at email@example.com.