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'It's a blessing' | 550 families receive free meals in Hickory

Second Harvest Food Bank and Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory hope Monday's meal giveaway will become a monthly event.

HICKORY, N.C. — About 550 families received free food Monday as part of Second Harvest Food Bank's massive meal giveaway in Hickory.

The two-hour event, held in the parking lot of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church, occurred as many people in the foothills continue to struggle to find work.

Second Harvest's Donal Dickens said Catawba County's food insecurity rate jumped 5%-8% as a result of the pandemic.

"Our big picture goal of course is just to inch out of hunger," Dickens said. "That's our ultimate goal, but we hope for this pandemic to level out."

Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church's Rev. Anthony Freeman said they partnered with Second Harvest, in part, because his parishioners have been personally affected by the pandemic.

He described parishioners suffering financial setbacks and other members contracting and dying from COVID-19.

"But, this is an opportunity for us to be able to do as much good as possible during these trying times," Rev. Freeman said.

Steven Ardrey was one of the hundreds of people waiting in line to pick up the free meals.

"It's a blessing," Ardrey said about the meal giveaway.

He said he's struggling to find work, and his mother died from the virus.

"My mother passed away, and it's been kind of rough on me so I've been having a little trouble lately," Ardrey said. "By going to places, getting food, [it's] been helping me out a whole lot."

Members of the National Guard helped load meals in people's cars and direct traffic.

Dickens said Second Harvest hoped to make this meal giveaway a monthly event.