Nutritious Meals Feed and Teach

03 Mar 2022

Wilmington Branch of the Food Bank is expanding its service area


More than simply providing food to help the food insecure in our area, the Wilmington Branch of the Food Bank is working to improve the nutrition of hungry people, particularly children, in underserved communities.

To help children understand the importance of good nutrition, the Food Bank organizes Kid Cafes, which provides nutrition education to hungry children while it also provides free and prepared nutritious meals. Children who participate are taught to prepare nutritious meals for themselves with minimal supervision.

Aimed at children ages 15 and under, it is a comprehensive program to end childhood hunger through after-school programs and is operated by community agencies. The Food Bank brings community partners together and trains volunteers, supplies food for nutritious meals, and assists in planning and carrying out education, nutrition, and enrichment programs.

The Wilmington Branch is one of the six branches of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which provides food for people in need in 34 counties of the state and is the state’s largest food bank in terms of total food distributed. In its current service area, more than 74,000 people face hunger and are consider food insecure.

“Food insecurity is the inability to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for an active and healthy lifestyle,” explains Peter Werbicki, president and CEO of the Food Bank.

“This term can be difficult to understand as can be the basic concept of hunger in America. It’s large and overwhelming,” he adds.

The increasing demands on the Food Bank to address hunger in this region brought on by natural disasters, the pandemic, and economic uncertainty are requiring the Wilmington Branch to construct a new facility. Located on Greenfield Street, it should be ready in early 2023.

The current warehouse is too small to store and distribute the amount of food currently needed in the four counties that the branch currently serves: Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender. With the new facility, the branch will add a fifth county, Duplin, to its service area. In this county, 90 percent of school children receive free or reduced-price school meals, and 34 percent of children under the age of 18 are food insecure. In addition, 23 percent of all county residents are food insecure.

Since 1990 the branch has operated out of its 12,000-square-foot warehouse on Marstellar Street. The new building with about 35,000 square feet significantly expands the branch’s storage and distribution capabilities. In addition to distributing more food, other plans include a community garden, health education programs, a commercial kitchen for training, and additional storage space for perishable fresh food and high-quality proteins.

Another important nutrition component of the branch is the Weekend Power Pack Program, which specifically targets children who can benefit from better access to nutritious meals. Once a week, children in the program are given special backpacks that are filled with nonperishable food to help meet their weekend nutrition needs. These packs, assembled in the branch warehouse by volunteers, contain about 10 items that includes whole grains, protein, and fruit.

For the Wilmington Branch, volunteers are the heart and soul of its mission. They are indispensable in making sure that nutritious food reaches people in need, especially in times of crisis such as a natural disaster or pandemic. Last year volunteers at the branch served more than 6,900 hours as they distributed more than 10 million meals.

Planning is also well underway for the Kids Summer Meals Program that assists children when instruction has ended and they no longer have access to the nutritious breakfasts and lunches served during the school year. This program, which the Food Bank has sponsored since 2009, helps children in low-income areas to receive nutritious meals during long school vacations.

Schools, government agencies, and community and faith-based organizations participate in this program by running a site or being a sponsor. The Food Bank
is now recruiting sites to assist in providing this free meal service for children this summer.

Nutrition is such an important focus of the Food Bank that it has three nutritionists on its staff. Its teaching kitchen conducts cooking demonstrations and offers nutrition education to show how to use healthful foods like whole grains, fresh produce, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. It also has several gardens to showcase skills for growing food and to increase the supply of fresh produce that it distributes.

Through its partnerships, education, and programs, the Food Bank helps communities to overcome hunger. As it provides food to people in need, it also is building solutions to end hunger. It is a member of Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief organization and the nation’s largest food bank network with more than 200 food banks.

To receive periodic updates from the Food Bank, sign up to receive its e-news by registering on its website. If you are interested in sponsoring a food drive, volunteering, or donating to the Food Bank, contact the branch at 910-251-1465.  

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