Food on Wheels

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

GATESVILLE – A food pantry on wheels…a novel idea that appears to be catching on in Gates County.

Hopefully, it’s an idea that will branch out in Bertie and Hertford counties as well.

For the fourth consecutive month, the North Gates Charge of the United Methodist Church has noted a strong turnout of those taking advantage of a Food Bank of the Albemarle

program that brings food to those in need instead of vice-versa.

On Thursday of last week, 100-plus individuals patiently waited for the free food distribution held at the Gates County Community Center. And this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill food items. Included in the distribution were meats, bread and even dessert to go along with the normal staples of life.

“We never know what the truck will bring, but it’s always good, quality food,” said Rev. Mike Askew who pastors the North Gates Charge, a group of Methodist churches (Kittrell’s, Savage’s and Parker’s) serving the Gates and Corapeake communities of the county.

“We are blessed on what we are able to do and we feel the families on the receiving end appreciate it,” Rev. Askew added. “It’s a chance to give something back to the communities in which we live and work.”

The program is volunteer driven and operates on donations from churches and private citizens.

At this particular distribution, up to 25 volunteers, young and old, black and white, joined together for a common cause.

“Many of our volunteers will testify that they are the ones who are truly blessed,” Rev. Askew said. “They are here to share with those in need.”

On Thursday, volunteers documented and kept an orderly presence over those who showed-up for the free food. Those volunteers assisted in the unloading of the Food Bank truck and helped place the food items into bags. Even a couple of Gates County Boy Scouts lended a hand, helping take the bags to the vehicles of the recipients.

“As adults, we see the faces of those in need each and every day,” Rev. Askew noted. “But young people do not see those faces. This is a way for them to interact with those in need. It’s a great lesson in life for all involved.”

Rev. Askew explained that this program is relatively new to northeastern North Carolina. He said traditional stationary food banks remain active in Gates County where those in need can still go on a regular basis.

“The idea here is to extend the outreach with a rolling food bank,” he said. “The only requirement is that the recipients, in our case, must be Gates County citizens. If doesn’t matter if they come here in an old, beat-up Volkswagen or a brand new Mercedes. If they tell us they are in need…if they are hungry, we will fill their needs.”

Those receiving the food are asked to give their name, address and telephone number. Those facts serve a dual purpose…allowing the Food Bank of the Albemarle to track, by zip code, where the food is going and to allow Gates County volunteers to place a phone call to those receiving this service to relay information concerning the next distribution.

“This is still relatively brand new to us; we just started this in Gates County in May,” Rev. Askew said. “But I think we’ve got a good system going.”

The first three events, each held at a different public school in the county, saw up to 150 families benefit from the service. Within the region, the program has served families in Perquimans, Hyde, Currituck and Dare counties.

The mobile food pantry was scheduled to make its first-ever stop in Bertie County earlier this week. To date, there are no known plans in regards to the mobile unit making a stop in Hertford County.

However, Rev. Askew said the eventual goal was to have the mobile unit visit every county in the Food Bank of the Albemarle service district once a month.

The program is aided by contributions.

“We’re responsible for helping to generate the funds,” Rev. Askew said. “We feel that if the Lord wants us to do this, we’ll find a way. My churches have been behind this program and we’re asking other churches to join us. It’s a chance for us to get out from behind the walls of our churches and help our community.”

Rev. Askew said that the program, offset by contributions, costs $5 per individual distribution.

“If a person will give up just two fast food meals a month, they can help feed a family in need for an entire week,” he stressed.

The program, a partnership between the Food Bank of the Albemarle and the Methodist churches of the Elizabeth City District, also includes an effort to take food to those unable to physically come to the distribution site.

Those wishing to donate or volunteer can contact Rev. Askew at 252-333-8811.