Feeding families in North Carolina may have gotten easier. 

The United States Department of Agriculture announced $40.3 million in funding available for food projects nationwide on Wednesday. With the help of the Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit organization acting as the National Fund Manager for the USDA, 16 private-public partnerships were awarded the grants “to expand access to nutritious and affordable foods” in 20 states and Washington, D.C. 

What You Need To Know

USDA announces millions in grant funding to improve food access across America

North Carolina is one of 20 states and the nation’s capitol potentially benefiting from the grant

A three-prong partnership called the “Growing Food Finance in the Triad Program” was funded through this grant

A goal is to help food pantries benefit from funding that could allow small farmers and independent businesses to compete against corporations in their communities

The grant money is available through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative program, HFFI.

A multi-partner effort in the Piedmont-Triad region called “Growing Food Finance in the Triad Program” is the newest food project made possible because of the funding program.

The HFFI grant helps small businesses and minority business owners compete with larger non-local franchises. The potential for opening avenues to sourcing local healthy foods could ease costs for entities down the food supply chain. 

The Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry is one of many distribution centers in the state where hungry people can go to receive boxes of food. 

“Just about half the food that each family gets is fresh food,” Mike Burger said. 

Burger has volunteered at the pantry for about eight years, and for the last almost five years, he’s served as the board chair over the pantry. “The reason that we are passionate about what we do is because we want to take that whole ‘where is my next meal coming from’ off the table,” Burger said.

He said the urge to give back happened on a whim as he noticed a long line of cars one day on the drive past the food pantry.

“I thought to myself, how can this be? These are my neighbors and people in my neighborhood. They need my help,” Burger said.

Burger said the pantry, based in Wake Forest, feeds around 1,600 families a month.

The pantry receives canned goods, perishables, fresh vegetables and fruit, meat, milk and more. The donations are predominately from other businesses and the goodwill of the public.

Burger pointed to a shelf stacked with canned greens. “This goes in and out of here quickly enough that we can just do one shelf at a time and it just rotates through,” Burger said.

He said families bring about 100 pounds of food home, but can’t return until another month’s time has passed. 

“For the most part, this isn’t enough for people to survive on for a full month,” Burger said.

Burger said its inventory supplements the other meals, either found, made at home or bought elsewhere, eaten by these working-class folks struggling to make ends meet.

“They’re struggling to feed their families. They’re trying to decide who out of the family is going to have some food before they go to bed and who is going to go to bed hungry, and they’re trying to figure out how they are going to get their kids out of the house for school with empty bellies,” Burger said.

Burger said the pantry runs solely on grants and donations, with no money coming directly from the federal government. He said they operate on about a $500k yearly budget.

But the 62-year-old said buying local can be cost-prohibitive because small-time farmers are often forced to offset some operational costs onto the customer.

“If we were to buy that food from local farmers, we would spend all our money before we had enough food for everybody.”

This creates an imbalance in local food ecosystems because they often buy from national wholesalers instead of homegrown retailers.

“We do some things with local farmers, but frankly, not enough,” Burger said.

The HFFI program would target the strain on food supply chains and grocery retail by funding access to healthy foods in underserved areas. This could put capital in the hands of minority-owned businesses and small farmers finding it hard to stay afloat against big-time franchises by offering competitive prices for the same quality nutritious foods.

Using a Chic-Fil-A-style check-in system, volunteers take information from each driver. Volunteers estimate from check-in to roll-out with a load of groceries, the drive-thru can take roughly 10-15 minutes. 

“It’s truly a community effort to keep this running,” Burger said. “It’s a low-key way to help people without judgment because you know they need the help, and we are just blessing them one car at a time.”

Drive-thru food pickups are every Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and the second and third Saturdays of every month.



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