Manteo High School student finds creative way to distribute food pantry surplus

Published 8:15 am Monday, January 17, 2022

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The Roanoke Island Food Pantry has significantly increased the amount of food it is distributing, thanks to Manteo High School senior Caroline O’Neal.

The food pantry is located at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, where Caroline’s father Marc O’Neal serves as pastor. “My dad came home from work and told us about all the food that was being thrown away. I thought, oh my goodness there’s an opportunity here,” she said.

Many items at the food pantry are donated by area grocery stores and some things are donated directly from individuals. The majority are non-perishables like canned food, rice and beans, but there is also bread and a refrigerated section of fresh food that is still in good condition but approaching expiration. With the weekly donations arriving, volunteers were throwing out good food to make space in the refrigerator for newer items.

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Having served at the Food Bank of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, Caroline understands the seriousness of food insecurity and was determined to reach families in need in the local community. She started doing research and asking community leaders for advice. Through the help of Manteo High School guidance counselor Sarah Parsell and Principal John Luciano, Caroline made contact with Betty Selby, the director of Monday Night Alive (MNA).

Monday Night Alive is a community-based tutoring program led by volunteers that serves local students. “I asked if I could set up a table and offer baskets of food to families in the Monday Night Alive program,” Caroline said. Selby agreed, and that first week all 12 bags were accepted. That was the start of “12 Baskets,” inspired by John 6:12-13 in the Bible, when Jesus feeds a crowd of thousands.

Since then, Caroline, her parents and food pantry directors Bob and Angela Noffsinger pack up 20 large bags of groceries each week and drive them to Monday Night Alive, which meets at the Head Start building in Manteo.

Though the O’Neals don’t know for sure why people were not coming directly to the food pantry to pick up items, they guessed it was because many families could not attend during open hours, which are from 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday. According to Caroline, some months as many as 20 people come to the pantry; others it’s as little as 5. The pantry is run by volunteers and has not only food, but can also offer gas cards or Piggly Wiggly gift cards if someone has a specific need.

In the last several months, 12 Baskets has become a significant extension of the Roanoke Island Food Pantry, dispersing as much as 30 or 40% of the total amount of food given out. “Meeting people’s needs where they are instead of expecting them to come to you is often overlooked in today’s society,” said Pastor O’Neal.