The Hunger Coalition of Transylvania County non-profit organization emerged to fill the gaps with healthier, plant-based food staples in the battle to combat hunger.
Currently, the coalition is distributing fresh produce at Brevard Community Church on Morris Road on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. to meet the needs of financial crisis during the pandemic.
“The unity of the community is powerful, and I think what I want us to take from this time – how we want to grow on the other side,” said Barbara Grimm, the coalition’s board chair. “For me, it’s about seeing how people work together. Our thing was always never to duplicate services, so we’ve always looked for where the holes are.”
Grimm said the coalition is a community effort that began in 2014, when churches and organizations, such as Anchor Baptist and The Sharing House, were already in place distributing food.
“It was loosely formed at that point,” she said. “Our angle became over time to not do what other organizations were already doing.”
They began with monthly distributions, providing food such as milk, egg and cheese.
“We were focused on the kinds of food that are expensive to families,” she said.
Then, a nonprofit food distribution organization came up on the coalition’s radar called Bounty & Soul, in Black Mountain, N.C.
“That organization is doing some amazing work, so we started to look at its model,” she said.
Bounty & Soul’s initiative is to provide fresh produce to those in need, as well as nutrition, wellness and culinary education.
Another part of its model was that it had a distribution truck.
“Anchor Baptist was getting all of this great produce, but a lot of it was rotting because it couldn’t get out to the people,” she said. “So that began the second part of our initiative, which was to get as much food as we can into Transylvania County where people could access it.”
They began distributing at Rosman Elementary, where she said was a chosen location because of its access point to families.
The coalition then added Davidson River School, where Grimm is the principal, and with the help of Manna FoodBank in Asheville and the Sharing House, “pop-up” pantries were held at Rosman Elementary, Davidson River School and in Sapphire.
“At the same time we know that we wanted to have a push toward more healthy eating,” she said. “It wasn’t enough just to give people food if it weren’t fresh and healthy. So, we’ve balanced that out a little bit because food is food to a lot of people. If they are not going to eat it, then we are wasting our time. With the infusion of the Blue Zones and with plant-based doctors on our board, we added health and education to our mission statement. We don’t want to overload people with food that aren’t the best foods for them.”
The Blue Zone Project – Brevard is a nonprofit health initiative designed to create a healthy community.
In October of last year, Grimm said the collation initiated a food challenge in which they provided two weeks of food for 10 people, teaching them what it means to be “plant-based.”
“We saw huge change,” she said. “I did it with them. I’ve been plant-based for a while, and my cholesterol went down 100 points in six to eight months. It’s really remarkable to see. People even get off diabetes medicine.”
For this fall, cooking classes are on the agenda.
“Our initiatives really are to get food into the outer edges of the county that may not have the same access because of the lack of solid grocery stores,” she said. “And, to start teaching people how to prepare and eat healthier goods, provide more fresh produce to people in all areas of the county, not just in Brevard.”
If they have food left over after their distribution to up to 250 people on Thursdays, the food doesn’t go to waste. It is taken to Rooster Head Plantation, where owner and operator Jacqui Edens has initiated her own food distribution program for children who aren’t getting their school lunches.
“All of us are really working together to make sure everyone has food,” Grimm said. “I feel like we’ve reached that saturation in which at the end of May we will go back to our two or three monthly distributions, and then work toward helping people grow their own vegetables.”
At last Thursday’s distribution, the coalition gave out tomato plants for those interested in growing food.
“We are evolving, and we work toward something for about a year,”she said. “And then when it grows and becomes successful, we take on a new initiative and move further into this healthy initiative, because we really believe food is medicine. Food is so much more than just putting it in your body. It is health. We have a doctor and a nurse on our board who both understand the benefits of plant-based eating and how it can fight disease. So, as we evolve again into this Blue Zone community – all of this works hand in hand. People will often say, ‘You know, it’s just too expensive for me to eat like that.’ We are just trying to give it away as much as we can. We want you to eat.”
The educational part of food is to understand how stress and time work against people in regards to eating healthy.
“I’ve cooked for four kids,” she said. “I know that you go to what’s comfortable to you. If macaroni and cheese or fried chicken is what you know how to do, and that’s your jam, then that’s what I’m going to do when I’m in a hurry and under stress. I’m not going to learn how to cook a really nice new kind of grain or those kinds of things. Plus, my kids might not eat them, so it’s this balance of helping people prepare things that are palpable to their kids, but also that have good, healthy results.”
Seeking community support through partnerships and grants is another part of the mission of the coalition.
“People have been very generous,” Grimm said. “We want people to partner with us. If you are an organization that might be looking for a place to invest in the community, then you can help invest in these distributions, and we will put these names on these distributions, so people will know that those organizations are supporting this great work.”
Recent sponsors include Ace Hardware and Dr. John Krishingner at Water Oaks Dental Group, who gave toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“It’s a real community effort, and I think that’s the beauty of it,” Grimm said.
Lately, during the pandemic, Grimm said she’s observed people having a need to “do something meaningful.”
“We hadn’t had a huge need for volunteers until this time, and we’ve had four Brevard High School kids who have been pumped to serve the community, and it just warms your heart to see them helping,” she said. “It’s a beautiful mix of people who might have never known each other otherwise, but now joined together in finding value in this work, and I love that.”
Grimm said anyone can come pick up food at the distribution site at Brevard Community Church.
“All we ask is what number is in your family, and that’s the way the Hunger Coalition has always been,” she said. “We have never asked for more information than the number that’s in your family.”
With what the Transylvania County School system, Rooster Head Plantation, The Sharing House, Anchor Baptist, the coalition and others are doing, she said, “people in Transylvania County should not have to go hungry.”
“The only gap we feel like right now is if there are people who don’t have transportation, with no friend to go and pick up the food, so, if people will tell us, we will take it to them,” she said.
For more information,go to http://www.hungerfreetc.org or contact Barbara Grimm @email@example.com .