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How to help those in the Charlotte area who can't afford a Thanksgiving dinner.

Due to rising levels of food insecurity in Charlotte, Loaves & Fishes food pantry this year, added a social worker to its staff.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For many, the Thanksgiving holiday is centered around a meal. But for some of our neighbors, the table will be empty.

Nationally, the USDA estimates more than 50 million people will be food insecure by the end of the year, 17 million of them, children.

In North Carolina, researchers at North Carolina Central University say a recent survey of 1,345 residents across 97 counties, found high levels of hunger as the holidays near.

Researchers say the survey found that 17% of respondents have experienced at least one day without sufficient food supplies in the past week and that 60% had one or more children in the home.

“It suggests that the levels are almost as high or similarly high to what was experienced in North Carolina after the recession, which is to say the highest levels in recent history,” said Christopher Paul, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at North Carolina Central University.

“In our survey, 32% of the respondents had reported that they lost income due to COVID and so that’s a major factor,” he said.  

Dr. Deepak Kumar, director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical & Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI), called the results a major call to action.

“These results and those of the overall Advanced Center for COVID Related Disparities (ACCORD) project at NCCU reveal the need for urgent action and coordination between communities, researchers, and local officials,” Kumar said.

Due to rising levels of food insecurity in Charlotte, Loaves & Fishes food pantry this year, added a social worker to its staff.

“To help people who have never had to ask for help before, and might not know how to navigate the system,” said Sue Bruce, Marketing and Events Director Loaves & Fishes.

Bruce said the number of people their organization feeds on a weekly basis has tripled.

“We want them to know that we’re here to help them, to figure out how to get a referral or make that referral for them so they can get groceries and have a meal for Thanksgiving and beyond,” Bruce said, adding if people are unsure about the process, all they have to do is call.

Experts say it took years after the recession for people to once again become food secure, and say they fear the impacts of COVID-19 on food security will also last for years.

Anyone wishing to help feed the hungry can donate money or food to several area organizations, including Loaves & Fishes and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.