Summer program feeds Chowan's youths

Benefit concert to be held June 30

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Volunteers from Edenton United Methodist Church including John A. Holmes High School Principal Stephen Wood (center) and Edenton Town Councilor Jimmy Stallings (second from right) pack food for the Children's Summer Nutrition Program. Edenton Chowan Food Pantry xxxx Karen xxx (right) watches.



Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Edenton Chowan Food Pantry isn’t usually open at night. On June 19, the nonprofit’s lights were on and the doors open as its Children’s Summer Nutrition Program kicked off. The program, currently in its third year, was created to help ease family’s budgets during the summer.

According to statistics provided by the pantry, during the summer months, a family’s food budget grows by $300 while children aren’t in school. Some Chowan County families already have strained budgets. That $300 could lead to a serious debate as to whether to buy groceries or pay an electric or water bill.

Amanda Howell, volunteer coordinator, helps with the program.

“We’re trying to ease the burden for families,” she said during a recent interview. “We’re really trying to help them by eliminating hard decisions like whether they feed their child or pay an electric bill this summer. We want to keep kids fed, so we’re doing what we are supposed to do.”

Karen Harrington, food pantry warehouse manager, said the program will be offered from 5:30-7 every Wednesday night during the summer until Aug. 21, the week before Edenton-Chowan Schools open their doors for the new school year. She said the program is held at night so that parents can get food after work.

To qualify for the program, a family has to have a child attending any Edenton-Chowan Schools — White Oak Elementary, D.F. Walker Elementary, Chowan Middle School and John A. Holmes High. 

Gail Hess and Caroline Wood, members of Edenton United Methodist Church, organize 10-person teams throughout the summer to help the program. The team is broken up into three stations with two runners who help load the food into people’s cars. On the program’s first night, those runners were John A. Holmes Principal Stephen Woods and Edenton Town Councilor Jimmy Stallings.

Harrington and Howell noted that 90% of the families they see at the children’s summer nutrition program are single mothers or grandmothers and other relatives who have taken in children during the summer.

Howell also noted Principal Wood’s presence at the program every year. She said it helps show the families how important the children’s nutrition is to the Edenton-Chowan School system.

“Some of the parents are just out of high school. When they come in and see their principal here, it shows that the community cares,” she and Harrinton noted. “It breaks your heart and makes you happy at the same time.”

After paperwork is filled out, the information is given to Harrington. She calls out the number of kids who need be served, along with the families’ number. The families aren’t identified by name, just a number, to protect people’s privacy.

Harrington noted that if a family has only one kid going to school, but five children total, the food pantry will provide food for all five kids. This particular week, the food pantry also had some diapers and baby formula. If requested, those items also were sent home.

The food packed for the Children’s Summer Nutrition Program consists of things kids can make on their own — juice boxes and snacks of mixed fruit cocktail or cookies, cereal with boxed milk, peanut butter and jelly with bread, hot dogs and buns, cans of chili and containers of macaroni and cheese. Sometimes, the food pantry gets some fresh produce, like watermelon or cantaloupe. 

As of 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the program, about 25 families signed up with more coming in to the food pantry’s lobby. Harrington said that the program’s first few weeks are usually slow, but activity picks up as the summer continues. She noted that sometimes, people will be waiting in line before she arrives at 4 p.m.

This year, the pantry received a $2,000 grant for the program, Howell said, but that doesn’t even cover half the program’s expenses.

To that end, the food pantry is hosting a  free concert from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, June 30, at the Edenton Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, corner of Queen and Granville streets. During the event, donations will be accepted for the Children’s Summer Nutrition Program. Three vocal groups — The Albermarle Sounds, The Mighty Termitees and the Albemarle Chorale  — will ring in the Independence week by celebrating America in music. Master of Ceremonies will be Eddie Fields.

Joe Rizzo, food pantry director, said he’s looking forward to having a good time at the concert.

The money raised will help a vital program, he said while helping organize a recent shipment of food.

“It helps us feed Chowan County’s children 12 months a year,” he said. 

Rizzo said that when he first started at the food pantry, earlier this year, he felt like it would be a job more than anything else. His wife, who works as a nurse at Sentara Hospital in Elizabeth City, noted how his role has become more than that, he said.

“She knows how much time I spend here. I’m here every day,” he said. “It’s become a mission. You see how beneficial it is. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say thank you and how much it means to them. In the supermarket, people come over and visit. They say, ‘Hey, thanks nice to see you again’ and give me a hug. I never expected that.

“There is so much the program does, and so we're very thrilled to be able to continue its mission,” he said.