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Feeding the children

AHOSKIE – For years, the Ahoskie Food Pantry has sought out donations to help fund its Backpack Program – one that provides nourishment to needy students when they are out of school.

It’s extremely rare for a donation to arrive unsolicited….at least until now.

Recently, the Pantry was sent a check in the amount of $20,000 from the North Carolina Baptist Hospital Foundation (NCBHF), based in Winston-Salem, for the purpose of fueling the financial coffers of the Backpack Program. The money was sent to the local Food Pantry in honor of Ernest L. (Ernie) Evans of Ahoskie, a longtime member of the North Carolina Baptist Hospital Board of Trustees and now a Life Trustee of that group.

“Mr. Evans personally selected the Ahoskie Food Pantry’s Backpack Program because of its commendable efforts to ensure your youngest citizens have nutritious meals,” stated Julie Ann Freischlag, MD, in a letter sent to the local Pantry from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“Thank you for all that you do for the schoolchildren of Ahoskie and for the service you provide throughout Ahoskie and Hertford County,” Freischlag added in her letter. “I hope the enclosed check will provide some relief to the challenges associated with funding such an important and meaningful program.”

Bill Arrington, the volunteer director of the Ahoskie Food Pantry, said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the dollar amount of the check.

“We’re thrilled to receive this,” Arrington said. “Last year we had a hard time finding the funds for our Backpack Program. I was spending money that wasn’t really there; it was because our local churches stepped in and helped fill that void that we were able to finish out the school year with this much-needed program. We were awfully close to having to cut back on the number of weekly meals we provide because of the costs and the lack of funding.”

For Evans, he was happy as well to see this funding go to a good cause.

“The Foundation agreed to allow current and former trustees to designate the beneficiaries of some of the Foundation’s gifts,” Evans explained. “They contacted me before Hurricane Florence because it looked for a while that we were going to be in the eye of that storm. After the storm passed us by without any damage, I contacted the Foundation and told them while the needs here are great in other ways, there isn’t an immediate need like there were in other parts of our state due to the hurricane.”

However, as Evans explained, the Foundation still wanted him to make the designation.

“I saw the Backpack Program being in the greatest need,” he stressed. “In all honesty, the check was in a greater amount than I thought.”

The Backpack Program – which began eight years ago and serves students at Ahoskie Elementary, Bearfield Primary, Hertford County Middle, and Riverview Elementary – identifies the most needy children. Officials at those schools make the Ahoskie Food Pantry aware of the total number of meals needed. The parents or guardian of each qualified student must sign a permission slip in order to enroll their child into the meals program, which sends the food items home with the child on each Friday.

Those meals come pre-packaged from the Food Bank of the Albemarle. Arrington said the local pantry adds to those pre-packaged items with pop tarts, pudding, and cereal bars. In addition to the “add-on” items, a typical food bag contains milk, juice, “heat-and-eat” cans of beef stew and pasta, and apple sauce. Each costs approximately $6.

“At the close of school this past spring we were doing 255 meals per week,” Arrington noted. “We are not at that amount yet for the current school year, about 160 right now, but that typically grows in number as the year progresses.”

Now, with a $20,000 check in hand, Arrington said the program shifts it focus to, “what the needs are and not what we are able to afford. This money helps so much and we are so very thankful to the Baptist Hospital Foundation for their generous gift that helps us feed those in need here in our county.”

Evans said the NCBHF awards grants annually in the “millions of dollars.”

“They award gifts to various non-profit entities and many are Baptist related,” Evans remarked. “They are making a great effort to spread those gifts throughout the state and not just limit it to the Triad area (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point).

“Except for my part in designating this money to the Backpack Program, this is a gift from the Foundation,” he added. “They run a world-class operation there in Winston-Salem and I’m so thankful and grateful just to be a small part of that.”

Evans said he is also grateful for the donations made locally to the Ahoskie Food Pantry from the Bertie-Hertford Community Foundation and from the Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital Foundation.

“I shared with the folks in Winston-Salem that every child in Hertford County qualifies for free lunch; for so many of them that lunch may be the best meal they have during the day,” Evans noted. “Think about the fact that so many of our young people go hungry when they’re not in school. That’s where this Backpack Program comes in to ensure they have some type of nourishment when they’re not at school.”

Evans praised the efforts of the Ahoskie Food Pantry for striving to ensure no child goes hungry in Hertford County.

“These volunteers are to be given a pat on the back for what they do. The need here in our county is great and they have stepped up to meet that need,” he concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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