Each Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the Town of Chapel Hill organizes a food distribution at the Eubanks Road Park-and-Ride Lot, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The weekly food pickup is meant to assist local residents who face food insecurity, according to Jennifer Woods, outreach coordinator at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Alex Carrasquillo, the Town's community safety public information officer, said the program is primarily overseen by the Chapel Hill Public Housing Program.
This food pickup location is one of many resources the Town provides for community members who face food insecurity.
People from many departments pitch in to help with the Wednesday food pickup — one being Laverne Burton, the distribution site coordinator and peer support specialist for the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Burton said she devotes around 20 hours a week to the project.
“We have a number of anywhere between 200 and 500 cars, which equates to nearly 800 families weekly," she added.
The food distribution program started about 10 years ago. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, food pickup was available at several public housing locations around Chapel Hill, Burton said.
Since the start of the pandemic, however, food distribution has been centralized at the Eubanks Road Park-and-Ride Lot, which is owned by Chapel Hill Transit.
Another pandemic-related change that affects food distribution is the increased food insecurity in the community.
“Between the pandemic and the rising costs of groceries, we recognize that there is a lot of need right now,” Carrasquillo said.
The entire distribution is operated by volunteers, with between 25 and 30 helping every week. According to Burton, they come from all parts of Chapel Hill, and many of them are current or retired employees of the Town.
Currently, there are enough volunteers to operate the distribution, according to Carrasquillo. He added the list fills up quickly for each week, but there are spaces to sign up for distribution times later on towards the end of September.
“Our big message is that we’re always looking for more volunteers,” Carrasquillo said. “Since we do it weekly, there’s always an opportunity to sign up for a spot in the future.”
Woods said that the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina supplies the food for distribution by way of its Durham branch. The organization serves 34 North Carolina counties in total.
"The food bank receives food from farmers, from major retailers like Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Wegman’s, Publix, Target and Walmart," she said.
She added they also purchase food with donations or receive it from drives from individual companies or individuals.
Looking ahead, the Town plans to continue operating the food distribution as is. According to Carrasquillo, there are no plans to move locations, and the program has so far been successful.
“Our bottom line is that we’re happy to be able to provide food for families in need,” Carrasquillo said. “We’re always welcoming volunteers and would encourage anybody to sign up.”
Interested volunteers can sign up for the food distribution here.
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