A rural county known for agricultural production may seem like the last place where children would not have enough to eat. But the statewide advocacy organization NC Child reports that more than one out of five children in Henderson County are in that dire situation.
“A high number of children here go to bed hungry,” acknowledges Richard Ranges, financial secretary for the all-volunteer Henderson County Hunger Coalition. “But there is no need for anyone in this community to go hungry, because help is there.”
Ranges invites all who are able to participate in the Hunger Coalition’s 36th Annual Hunger Walk on September 22. Funds raised by the event are distributed to a diverse network of about 10 nonprofit agencies, all working year-round to alleviate local hunger.
Part of the challenge, Ranges says, is educating the public about the available resources. But the Hunger Walk serves a dual purpose. While it raises vital funds to feed local families, it also helps to expand grassroots awareness of those food resources.
“In fact,” says Ranges, “the way I first got involved 20 years ago was by soliciting donations from friends and family to sponsor me in the Hunger Walk.”
Another paradox of the hunger issue is that a lack of sufficient food contributes to the nation’s obesity crisis. That’s because those in poverty often resort to the cheapest food they can find. That’s typically junk food, low in nutritional value but extraordinarily high in unwanted, unhealthy calories.
But the Hunger Walk addresses that need, as well.
A prime example is the garden at the Sammy Williams Center in Hendersonville, affiliated with the Council on Aging. A few years ago, Western Carolina Community Action, one of the nonprofits that benefits from the Hunger Walk, teamed up with expert gardeners to plant a community garden for members who use the Center. As site manager Susan Wrzalinksi explains, “Now they’re enjoying the fruits of all that work.” And neighborhood residents not associated with the Center also use the garden.
Marilyn Jerome, a member of the Center, says she likes walking in the garden to relieve stress. Another member, Lilly Hyder, agrees. “I just love watching all the buds turn into vegetables,” she says, “and I can enjoy it without having to do all work of putting [the garden] in.”
This year’s Hunger Walk takes place on Saturday, Sept 22. Registration is at 8am and the walk begins at 8:30am from Shelter #1 in Jackson Park. The route travels through downtown Hendersonville and toward Lenox Park and Kanuga Road for a 5- or 10-mile loop; there’s also a 1- or 2-mile “fun walk” inside Jackson Park. Pledge envelopes to sponsor walkers are available at various churches and organizations. For more information, visit hendersoncountyhungercoalition.org.