Hundreds line up for free food

First Posted: 5/1/2009

In what observers consider another sign of the sagging economy, hundreds of people lined up Friday at Veterans Memorial Park to receive free food through a government giveaway program.
At mid-morning during the scheduled three-hour distribution, cars were lined up along the driveways of the West Lebanon Street facility as deputies and others directed traffic. Meanwhile, additional vehicles sat three-abreast in an adjoining field, their occupants hoping to receive food before supplies were exhausted.
Slowly, the convoy of vehicles would snake its way toward a distribution center at the far end of the park where participants received bags containing chicken, macaroni, corn, peanut butter, juices and other commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The numbers are staggering, said Lorene Jones, food distributor for the USDA program in Surry County. She said workers at Veterans Memorial Park were prepared to distribute foods Friday to around 1,200 local families, about 200 more than the last giveaway in February.
Another 565 received commodities Thursday from a second site in Elkin. Items are doled out based on income levels and household size.
Its growing, Jones said of those showing up for the free food and the economic downturn behind the numbers. Were reaching a critical mass in Surry County.
Tammy Leftwich, a disabled, unemployed Mount Airy resident, was among those in line Friday, when the average wait was about one hour to receive the foods. Sitting in her car as workers checked paperwork, Leftwich said she was glad to be getting such assistance during difficult times for the community.
Its a lot, especially when you cant go out and buy food, Leftwich said concerning what she was receiving.
Pointing out that with major manufacturing employers in town shutting their doors, the general state of the economy has made even odd jobs hard to find, Leftwich said. I mean, its ridiculous.
If it wasnt for this, she added of the food giveaway, it is likely that Mount Airy would starve to death.
The coordinator said she makes a point of talking to recipients to get a feel for their financial circumstances, and hears some depressing stories as a result. One couple she spoke with at an earlier distribution had lost their home and cars and said their only solution now was to trust God.
We cant put our trust in the stock market, she said in relaying their sentiments.
Jones said the foods being handed out Friday represent a temporary, though welcome, answer to the woes experienced in this area among those with low or no incomes. You could conceivably stretch it to two weeks, she added of the amount distributed to each family.
A total of 211,845 pounds of food valued at $29,110 was available this week, according to the coordinator.
Food distributions are conducted in the county four times per year.

Silver Lining Seen
Though the large turnout for this weeks giveaway is a sad reminder of the recession, Jones said some uplifting elements have emerged.
One involves the volunteers who assist at the giveaways. On Friday, for example, members of the East Surry High School JROTC were busy loading items and moving them toward the waiting vehicles.
About 150 volunteers aided the distribution effort at both sites.
Jones said its good to know there are people in Surry County who are eager to aid others in a time of need, and she believes help also is coming from a higher authority. On Thursday when it appeared supplies at the Elkin giveaway would be exhausted before everyone received food, We said, God please bless it, and we had just enough, she recalled.
The coordinator also had praise Friday for James Byrd, a retired sergeant with the local National Guard. He came to the rescue after heavy rains earlier this week caused a trailer containing some of the surplus foods to begin sinking into the ground.
Byrd contacted Rick Sowers of Sowers Construction, who arranged for heavy equipment to be brought to the park to allow the trailer to be lifted and stabilized.
Jones also is hoping for another kind of rescue in Elkin, where a new site is being sought to accommodate the food distribution.
She said an appropriate location with space for storing the foods is needed not to mention a large parking lot.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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