The Ashe County Sharing Center, the county’s largest food pantry, turns 31 this month.
Rather than staging a celebration to mark the non-profit’s 31 years of service, Sharing Center Program Facilitator Michael Sexton is issuing a challenge to county residents.
“For every dollar donated, multiply that times 31 for each year the center’s been open,” Sexton said.
According to Sexton, all of the major local churches are taking special collections. Sexton is also encouraging county residents to donate whatever they can.
In 2013, the Sharing Center served approximately 5,809 families (17,623 individuals), a substantial increase from 2012 when the non-profit served 4,350 families (13,212).
“With the cutbacks and slow processing of food stamps, we saw additional growth in the number of families served,” Sexton said.
Of those families receiving assistance, 813 had one or more children ages 18 and under — a total of 2,080 children.
Demand was particularly high during the months of July and August.
In July, 504 families (1,606 individuals) were served and in August, 513 (1,690 individuals) were served. Of those families served, 570 had one or more children ages 18 and under. A total of 1,342 children ages 18 and under in Ashe County relied on assistance from the Sharing Center in those two months alone.
Since the start of 2013, the Sharing Center is serving more and more families with one or more children ages 18 and under, a trend Sexton calls “disturbing.”
“For the first time, the center assisted more families with one or more children ages 18 and under,” Sexton said. “That’s a record.”
“Approximately half of the people served have one or more children,” Sexton said.
According to Action for Children North Carolina, child poverty in Ashe County has increased 35 percent since 2007. In 2007, 23 percent of children lived in poverty. That number increased to 31 percent in 2012.
Ashe County is not alone when it comes to N.C. families with children going hungry.
Between 2010 and 2013, North Carolina ranked among the top five states that had the highest percentage of food insecurity in the nation, according to Feeding America’s “2010 Hunger in America Study.”
“Approximately 170,200 different people in NC receive emergency food assistance in any given week,” according to the N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks. “North Carolina ranks in the 10 worst states in the percentage of children under 18 who are lacking food on a regular basis.”
In the first two months of 2014, the Sharing Center has already served 266 families with one or more children ages 18 and under - a total of 654 children. Approximately 55 percent of the Sharing Center’s current client-base are families with one or more children ages 18 and under.
Sexton noted that the Sharing Center is still looking to move and expand in a new location in West Jefferson or Jefferson. The continued high demand for assistance from local residents in need makes such a move a high priority.
“We hope someone will donate the land for free or offer it at a reduced price,” Sexton said.
The Sharing Center is located at 3 N. Third Avenue, West Jefferson, N.C. 28694. Sexton specifically requests that all donations be mailed to the Ashe County Sharing Center’s mailing address at PO Box 334, West Jefferson, NC 28643.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.