Beach Food Pantry: Meeting people ‘where they are’
Published 12:45 pm Thursday, December 15, 2022
For the last 30 years, the Beach Food Pantry has been helping people in our community with food insecurity. But in the last several years, the organization has been making big changes.
“We have recognized that we have people who have more chronic food insecurity. The rules used to be that you could only come in four times per year, but with COVID we’ve taken those rules off,” said executive director Elisabeth Silverthorne.
Beach Food Pantry now has five unique ways of connecting food and other items with people in in need. With the “Flagship Program,” those who live or work in Dare County can come in and shop in-person at the Kitty Hawk center at 4007 N Croatan Hwy, selecting two weeks’ worth of free groceries based on family size. Items include produce, pantry staples, deli items (as available), pet food and personal hygiene products. Beach Food Pantry offers “client choice” – or the ability to select one’s own food based on their family’s needs and preferences. The center is open Monday through Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.
For those who can’t shop in person or those who are experiencing an emergency food situation, online ordering is available in smaller quantities. People can go online and choose items, which will be prepacked and ready for pickup Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We don’t want it to replace the in-person pick up, but if you can’t get there or if you need some emergency fill in, it’s available,” Silverthorne said.
The pantry also offers mobile events where they bring the food to a specific location or neighborhood and pass out prepacked boxes, produce stands when there are fresh fruits or vegetables in abundance, as well as the summer food program to supplement meals for children when school is not in session.
“We are really, really trying to be innovative,” Silverthorne said. “And even people who wouldn’t traditionally be able to come – if they need it, they’re able to access it in a way that meets them where they are.”
The holidays present unique opportunities to help families in need. Holiday meal bags are available via online ordering. The pantry made up 230 Thanksgiving meal bags and are already getting orders for Christmas. Beach Food Pantry volunteers do a significant portion of the shopping, so they are able to offer dairy, produce and a wider selection of culturally-appropriate food that may be more relevant to a client’s family, Silverthorne said.
The Outer Banks is a unique area in that much of the workforce loses or experiences reduced employment during the late fall and winter months. The Beach Food Pantry typically sees more people coming in between November and Easter, though this last summer the numbers were higher because of the hardship of increased food prices.
Silverthorne estimates Beach Food Pantry serves approximately 4,000 individuals per year, and that number is growing significantly with increased costs of groceries and gasoline.
“We have seen many, many new people coming in. Lots of people on fixed incomes that didn’t need assistance before,” she said. Feeding America estimates that 11.3% of Dare County residents experiences hunger or food insecurity.
When asked if the pantry could continue to meet the needs or serve even more people, Silverthorne responded, “Absolutely we can.”
She and her team are always on the lookout for more innovative ways to respond to community needs. “If we knew of a need, we would try to come up with an additional program.”
There is also a movement toward healthier foods in the food pantry. “Pantry clients across the country have chronic health conditions. Medical professionals have gotten much better at getting folks to look at what they’re eating, and we’ve made a move toward being able to offer fresher products,” she added.
The pantry purchases much of the food they give away. For donations, foods in high demand are eggs, canned pineapple, spaghetti sauce and pork and beans.
For organizations that hold canned food drives, Silverthorne said they are always grateful, and if possible she requests that these organizations contact her ahead of time. The need is great after the holidays, too, and food drives scheduled in other months can be a benefit if the pantry’s shelves are full during the Christmas season.
Participating in canned food drives is just one of many ways that volunteers participate in the Beach Food Pantry. Representatives from 14 different churches come by in the mornings to check food expiration dates, stock shelves and pack bags for pick-up.
Other volunteers come in during the afternoons. Those interested in helping are encouraged to contact the food pantry. While there aren’t always immediate opportunities to plug in, Silverthorne keeps a list of volunteer substitutes. Currently, there is a need for cash donations or grocery gift cards for hams for the Christmas bags.
“We couldn’t do anything without our community. Our community supports us in such a beautiful way,” Silverthorne said.
For information about Beach Food Pantry, including ordering a Christmas meal bag, visit beachfoodpantry.org.