Essie Cunningham opens her front door as soon as Lou Beal knocks.
"Why, Essie, don't you look beautiful today," Beal says, carrying a brown box to Cunningham's kitchen.
With her dark hair and friendly eyes, Cunningham looks the picture of youth. When she laughs, more years melt from her face.
At 80, she lives by herself on the outskirts of Lincolnton, N.C. She dresses up for company, and keeps her house spotless. But with failing eyesight and other health problems, it's hard for her to go to the store or cook.
Keeping Seniors' Pantries Stocked with Nutritious Food
To make sure she gets nutritious food, volunteers bring her a hot meal every weekday. Not long ago, she also started receiving free boxes of canned goods, cereal and other staples to stretch her budget and keep her pantry stocked.
At the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, N.C., Executive Director Kay Carter says the "Second Helping" program operates in five North Carolina counties. She hopes to expand each year and eventually include every county in the food bank's 19-county service area.
"We've always recognized that children and seniors are at particular risk when it comes to hunger," Carter says. "Children are dependent upon others to take care of them. Seniors might be struggling to afford medicine and food and they're making choices that no one should have to make. People in the field said this was a tremendous need."
In 2008, The Duke Endowment awarded a $90,000 grant to the Gastonia District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to collaborate with the food bank to launch the box program in Lincoln County. Volunteers from various rural churches — including United Methodist — work through Christian Ministry of Lincoln County and East Lincoln Christian Ministry to make the monthly deliveries.
Second Helping Boxes Are Small Supplement, Big Blessing
In Lincoln County, some 100 senior citizens participate — but program organizers expect the number will grow.
"They need something that's easy to fix when they can't get to the grocery store," says Mitzi Williams, a staffer with Christian Ministry of Lincoln County. "It puts a little more nutrition on their shelves, and we continually hear from people how much they appreciate it."
The boxes are meant to be a small supplement, but Cunningham says they're a big blessing. She already relies on the canned soup and tuna, cereal and oatmeal, applesauce and raisins.
"My box carries me over," she says. "It's hard for me to cook, but I can open a can of soup and I can eat a little applesauce and I can be very happy."
Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church