Written by: David Howell | Photography provided by NourishNC
Feeding the Future
We live in a prosperous community of beautiful beaches and designer homes… a historic community with a rich and storied past… a close community where you’re likely to see someone you know almost everywhere you go. Wilmington is more than just a historic town though. It’s a place where people who live elsewhere want to be. That’s pretty impressive and I am proud to live in a place others visit, cherish, and even envy.
But like so many other great communities, ours has almost as many needs as it does riches, and the first time I met Beth Hollis, NourishNC’s former Executive Director, I learned that for one particular group of citizens who live in the Port City, the future is in jeopardy.
Beth and I were attending a fundraising seminar for non-profits and just happened to be sitting next to each other. I noticed the familiar NourishNC logo, a colorful apple, and asked, “So what does NourishNC do?” Nothing could have prepared me for her answer…
“We feed kids in our schools who don’t get any food at home,” she said. One in four children living in New Hanover County are hungry. One in four… it dawned on me instantly that if 25% of the school-aged kids growing up around me were hungry on an almost constant basis, that meant that a quarter of our young population didn’t have the basic needs to build their own futures.
“About ten years ago, a small group of moms at a local school discovered that some of the kids their own children were in school with had a problem,” says Steve McCrossan, NourishNC’s current Executive Director. “They did some probing and figured out that these kids only got food when they were at school.”
McCrossan came on board about three years ago and has devoted himself to building on a program that was already successfully changing the lives of kids in Wilmington and beyond.
With a Master’s of Public Administration degree, a background in grocery management and deep connections across Wilmington’s impressive food culture, McCrossan was the perfect fit for NourishNC when the board decided it was time to grow. Under Steve’s management, the dedicated small staff of three and an army of volunteers are changing the lives of 1000 kids every day, on weekends and even over the holidays.
“Hunger wreaks havoc on children’s emotional, physical and mental well-being,” McCrossan says. “Hungry kids are sick all the time, and children like many of the kids we feed are raised in food insecure homes and suffer from chronic health conditions that arise from malnourishment. They’re just sick more often, recover more slowly and are hospitalized more.”
When we spoke, Steve went on to explain that kids who don’t get proper nourishment are literally worried sick. They’re more likely to suffer from higher rates of anxiety, stress, and depression, and they have lots of issues in the classroom.
“We know from the social workers we work with and various studies that in the classroom, hungry kids are more likely to have impaired concentration, lower math and reading scores, more absences and late arrivals, more grade repetition, and a host of behavioral issues,” he says. “Because they’re hungry, they can’t learn. They can’t concentrate, can’t do homework and can’t behave.”
“Think about it,” Steve says passionately, “most of us grew up worrying about good grades. When these children, who we look to for the future, leave school on Friday, they’re worried about what they’re going to eat for the next two days. That’s not fair, and all of us can do something about it.”
Children needing the program are identified by social workers in the schools and are approached and enrolled accordingly. When I asked Steve how the social workers identify the kids, he said you can tell when a kid doesn’t eat at home primarily by two factors. Prior to weekends, they get caught either hoarding or stealing food for their hungry siblings who aren’t in school yet and hardly ever get food. On Monday mornings, they eat so much that they literally get sick, having had nothing over the weekend.
Sixteen thousand people live in food deserts in New Hanover County (many of whom are kids). An urban food desert is a geographic area with a high concentration of poverty and no access to a supermarket. Lots of the families NourishNC helps must shop at gas stations or convenience stores, which are expensive and do not sell fresh foods and produce.
Here’s a brief look at NourishNC’s programs:
The Backpack Program: This program is specifically designed to put healthy food right into the hands of K-5 children. These children receive 8 easy to prepare meals, healthy snacks, milk or juice, and fresh produce every weekend.
A sample weekend bag contains an orange, sweet potato w/honey, canned ravioli, canned chicken, two mac ‘n’ cheese cups, three breakfast items (grits, cereal, oatmeal), a fruit cup, a juice box, shelf stable cheese, granola bars, snack crackers, and pudding.
Nourish Boxes: Pre-K, middle- and high-school students receive monthly boxes that contain four weekends’ worth of healthy food and fresh produce.
Break Boxes: For all school breaks NourishNC provides all children in their program with at least three meals a day, healthy snacks, juice, milk and fresh produce. They also give full, family-sized meals to families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Food Pantries: They provide schools and other nonprofits that serve children with emergency food, fresh fruits & vegetables, and healthy snacks.
Farmer’s MarKid: The mobile “Farmers MarKID” is a direct and hands-on approach to improving the health of children in our community. They take free fresh fruits and vegetables to wherever kids need them: food deserts, parks, playgrounds, after-school programs, high need schools and other nonprofits, where hungry children can “shop” for good, healthy food.
You can learn more about NourishNC by visiting their website or stopping by the warehouse for a tour. It’s a place where you’ll find a group of dedicated, hard-working people. NourishNC changes the lives of hungry children, and helping fix a problem like that can change your life, too.
or find them at
601 Greenfield St. Wilmington, NC 2840.