NEWLAND — After one of the busiest seasons in the nonprofit’s history, Feeding Avery Families continues to expand its services throughout the community to help ensure that no one goes hungry in Avery County.

In order to accomplish this mission Executive Director Dick Larson and the many volunteers who contribute the organization have been working to expand the number of available community pantries to Lees-McRae College and the Williams YMCA, creating the new “Backpacks for Seniors program” and becoming prepared for the upcoming summer food distribution.

“(The pantry at Lees-McRae) is available anytime the Student Center is open. It’s available for anybody at anytime they have need for food. We’ll be supplementing that with some additional personal hygiene projects. We did put some in to begin with, but this is something we want to keep doing too,” Larson said. “It’s hard to believe when you think about it. How could students be food insecure? But the bottom line is, every campus I can find in the country has food insecure students.”

The pantry has been on campus since before Covid when staff at the college approached Larson about establishing the pantry in order to ensure that food would be available to students regardless of means. Recently, an added focus was put on the project by Campus Chaplain Ted Henry who has been working with Larson for FAF to begin adding supplies to the pantry in the Fall.

“I coordinated with Ted about stocking it with 12 to 15 items we could put in there to start with, and we’ll just keep adjusting. As we go along, I’d like the students to run it. I’d think it would be much more meaningful for them to be in charge and to keep track of things. We’ll be happy to be the suppliers,” Larson said.

On Tuesday, April 27, FAF’s new van finally arrived, which was provided for through funds made available by the A.M.Y. Wellness Foundation. Larson said the new vehicle will be used to stock the organization’s seven community pantries twice a week, with an eighth pantry currently planned to be established at the playground at the Williams YMCA later this year.

“I’ve contacted Nick Daniels, who runs the skills program at the high school, and they will build it for us, as they did most of our other ones. We’ll provide the materials, and Nick and his students will build it for us. That’ll happen after the Fall semester starts and the kids get back,” Larson said.

As if the expansion of the community pantries did not provide enough for FAF to do, the nonprofit has also established a “Backpacks for Seniors” program with the Avery County Senior Center. FAF is now serving approximately 85 clients with the Senior Center through its home delivered meals program. Larson said that the packs are ones that volunteers with FAF complete and contain six meals worth of food, whereas the packs that FAF gives to the kids are provided by MANNA FoodBank.

Avery Senior Services Director Phillip Adams said that the initiative is already with clients of Senior Services.

“FAF is putting together a bag that we send out on Fridays for the weekend, and it has breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days. A lot of these clients are ones who are not able to cook. Our clients are really appreciative of it. Our home delivered clients are the ones who are homebound, and they’re just not able to get out and go shopping and everything,” Adams said.

Senior Services continues its drive-through meals, and over the past year, Senior Services expanded its in-home aid program over seven home-delivery routes. Additionally, the Senior Center itself has also begun to expand its offerings, with capacity now at 25 percent. Activities at the SC include exercise five days a week, Caregiver’s Haven, Tai Chi and bingo, among other individual and small group activities.

“We’re taking the precautions we can. We talked to the health department, and they approved our soft reopening plan about a month ago. So we’re just going forward with that, being cautious and people have to protect themselves,” Adams said.

Meanwhile, FAF continues to prepare for the summer feeding program, which will be greatly helped with the arrival of the new van.

“We haven’t quite worked out our summer feeding program for the children, but it’s going to be much, much bigger than last summer. Last summer, we did targeted deliveries for about 75 kids, but this summer there’s going to be summer school, the YMCA is going to have a day and afterschool program, 4-H is going to have a program and Newland Elementary. We will be providing backpacks to all of those children. We’re thinking that will be 300 a week,” Larson said.

Feeding Avery Families is located at 508 Pineola Street in Newland and can be contacted by calling (828) 783-8506.

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