Feed the hungry, but why are they hungry?

{Cross posted from Chapel Hill News}

Food For the Summer
Food for the Summer

This summer, thanks to Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, the InterFaith Council for Social Service, No Kid Hungry NC, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and with funding from UNC’s Food for All, our community launched an effort to provide lunches to as many of the 30 percent of children who qualify for free and reduced meals during the school year as possible.

The program, which started June 13 and will end August 26, has 40 meal sites throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill, 12 of which are open to any child, 18 years or younger, Other sites include summer school programs and summer camps where registration is required. Meals are prepared five days a week at McDougle, Northside, and Frank Porter Graham elementary schools. As of July 29, 40,686 meals had been served. By the end of August, 1,870 volunteer slots will have been filled by community members to prepare or deliver meals to children.

The success of the Food for the Summer program shows our community’s commitment to helping those in need. But while we work to treat the symptoms of poverty, we must also ask why – why are so many children in our affluent community in need of summer meals? How can we reduce those numbers? If as many people worked to address these questions as volunteered to bring meals to children, we might have far fewer children in need of summer meals.

Our problems are systemic – and require systemic solutions.

We know a lot about the answers to these questions, and what we can do about them. The inability to afford food is intimately tied to other factors related to poverty. When a family’s cost of living – how much things like housing and transportation cost – is high, paying for nutritious food is all the more challenging. When available jobs pay low wages, families struggle to pay for the basic goods they need to live. When educational opportunities are inequitable and do not adequately serve all communities and children, families face insurmountable obstacles to escaping poverty.

Consider some of these factors’ impacts here at home. According to the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition, a family needs to earn $20.09/hour to pay the average Chapel Hill rent of $1,061 per month. With many jobs in our community paying lower than this rate, families must make choices between paying rent or putting food on the table. Since rent is nonnegotiable, food is often the cost that gets cut.

We also should acknowledge that poverty and race are closely linked. Structural racism, which normalizes the institutional processes and practices that advantage white people at the expense of people of color, continues to play a role in sustaining poverty. Our institutions prevent equitable access to education, housing, transportation, employment, health care, and other opportunities and resources. Only when we implement policies designed to overcome structural racism and account for the inequities it has promoted can we make real progress toward eradicating poverty.

We see evidence of structural racism and policy failures at all levels of government. Federal housing policy favors relatively wealthy Americans through homeowner tax credits while housing subsidies for low-income Americans fail to meet demand. The Orange County waitlist for housing vouchers is full. Zoning laws make it difficult to address our housing shortage, meaning the neediest among us bear higher housing costs or move farther away and take on higher transportation costs. Development patterns effectively require car ownership, another burden for lower-income individuals. Even in areas with public transportation, service is often limited and targeted primarily to serve university students and employees.

We can implement solutions today.

Addressing systemic issues requires policy change at all levels of government. We can take action locally to address both the symptoms and the root causes. Local governments have authority over housing and transportation policies that can be tools for reducing poverty, if implemented appropriately. Community organizations and businesses can also be leaders for change.

Chapel Hill Transit has already taken steps to provide more equitable transit service. Using revenues from the Orange County transit tax, night and weekend service has been expanded to provide better service to those who work nights and weekends. This month, the HS route has been reconfigured to provide more frequent service to the Rogers Road neighborhood, a historically African American, lower-income neighborhood.

Local businesses and individuals can also provide support to initiatives aimed at fostering economic opportunities for people in need. The Community Empowerment Fund and El Centro Hispano have programs to connect workers with job opportunities. The Orange County Living Wage project has certified over 70 businesses, plus the town governments of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. By supporting these businesses, we can support a more inclusive and equitable economy.

We often express our commitment to providing equal opportunity for everyone. We have continually failed to live up to that promise. Solutions to true equality of opportunity are complex and interconnected across many areas of public policy. We have to acknowledge this interconnectedness and work to comprehensively change and improve our policies to make a lasting impact toward eradicating poverty.




I agree that the "Food for the Summer" program is a good one and very worthwhile. Without a clearer picture, that’s as far as I go though. 

Doing a little research, on sites such as http://datausa.io/profile/geo/orange-county-nc/ that have statistics such as age, race and gender on poverty demographics provided by the census bureau give me pause to question the rest of your thesis. 

Despite your charges of structural racism and policy failures, demographics show that the highest poverty numbers are young (18-24), white, men and women by a very wide margin. Given that the data is factual and the differences between Orange, Alamance, Chatham and Durham are striking; I posit that this demographic that sticks out like a sore thumb on the charts are students who live off campus who by virtue of being at university temporarily fall into the poverty ranks. To make matters even worse, this off campus living competes directly with the affordable housing inventory you profess to be concerned about. 

Other than that single demographic, the poverty statistics in Orange County are low when again compared to Alamance, Chatham and Durham and other counties. Therefore, it seems the systemic problem you are asking taxpayers to fund and the commitment you are scolding us for not living up to is caused largely by UNC students living off campus. 

Of course, no poverty is acceptable and we should try to solve poverty where there truly are issues of racism and/or policy failures. So, how about this for a policy failure; UNC does not provide adequate student housing AND students choose to live off campus for a variety of solvable reasons. How about putting some of your well-meaning but misplaced outrage on UNC to provide that "bed for every head" they promised? If UNC provided adequate student housing, it would serve to take the pressure off of affordable housing and might just make the choice between rent and food a non-issue for many of the truly needy.

The poverty rate in Orange County is not low. In a 2013 study from the US Census Bureau, even after accounting for students who lived off campus, the poverty rate in Orange County was 14.0%, compared with 17.1% in Durham County, 16.5% in Alamance County, and 16.4% statewide. Yes, adjusting for the off-campus student population somewhat lowered poverty rates in college towns. Still, nearly 1 in 7 people in Orange County were living in poverty.

And you missed the point about race and poverty. Of course most Orange County residents in poverty are white; most people in the county are white. The relevant statistic is the disparity in poverty rates. In the 2014 data, 75.5% of Orange County residents were white, and the poverty rate among white residents was 14.8%. African American residents were 11.6% of the Orange County population, and the poverty rate among African Americans was 26.7%. This glaring disparity has historical, structural roots that are inextricably tied to race and racism and that require us to identify systemic solutions, even as folks do the important day-to-day work of, for example, feeding hungry kids during the summer.

Post your sources

Links to the sources are provided in my previous comment. Here they are again.

US Census Bureau study from 2013:

US Census Bureau poverty data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey:

......that was all you had. A 2013 study using 2011 statistics and then a restatement of the same numbers I quoted in a different form.

Recapping; you are saying that I somehow missed the point when my point was that the students clearly skewed the poverty numbers by 5% as shown in the same statistics you requoted? Given UNCs enrolment statistics the number is 29114, how many of that number is that 5%? How many more are competing for the scarce affordable housing? The scolding from the author is misplaced.

You say “Of course most Orange County residents in poverty are white; most people in the county are white.” True enough, however you do not address the fact much responsibility for the decline in affordable housing stock is borne by actions of the previous self-proclaimed “progressive” Chapel Hill TC.

I would say that you missed my point that the “Structural racism, which normalizes the institutional processes and practices that advantage white people at the expense of people of color, continues to play a role in sustaining poverty.” Is directly related to the failure to provide housing for its students of all economic levels and I would add that the attempts to compensate for this have been inadequate. To state it once again, the impact of the skewed census statistic is multiplied by the additional pressure they place on the diminished affordable housing stock.

So let me draw a thread through it for you; the nexus of the problem is a combination of a significant (policy driven) artificial demand for low priced housing coupled with a past (policy driven) decline in the stock of same. Yet the author of the article deamonizes “the wealthy” (a perennially convenient nonspecific target) and proposes policy changes, while carefully being nonspecific.

My opinion is, that this piece is well intentioned but creates confusion about the causes and therefore the solutions. If someone is truly interested in addressing the issue, then critically examining the major players and their policies would be a much better start. 

by the fact that this is a university town. Yes, there are students and they are affecting housing affordability. Yes, the university should be doing more to provide housing for students and so that their employees can work and live in the same community if they choose to.

But just as we say in our piece and Damon reiterates, structural racism is the culprit. There has been chronic disinvestment on communities of color. Discriminatory lending practices have results in foreclosure. Institutionalized racism has resulted in communities of color exluded from provision of town utilities, transportation, and garbage/recycling pick-up. These practices are well documented by the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities, located in Orange County (check out their work here).

There are a number of specific solutions - like eliminating these practices, investing in communities of color like UNC and Chancellor Folt have done with the $3 million loan program to work with Northside community to preserve housing options for people of color and families. We need to do even more of this.

I thought this was Orange politics?

I am honestly tired of reading shallow stories that label but do not address obvious underlying causes, misdirecting readers to efforts that are noble but too small to solve anything. OP has reduced itself from a forum where ideas and facts are shared and argued to a 140 character tweet storm. Yuck.

Are yoy saying the past TC failing to apply their own affordable housing standards to new development and UNC dumping their student housing responsibility on the town are not structural? Are to saying that calling them out is a distraction? If not, why don't you call it out? You say you do not think 3 million is enough, and I agree, how did you miss that when you wrote your story?

Why are you throwing up a smoke screen? Are the practices outlined by the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities happening in Orange County? No, nothing so overt, but others are and you know them. Who exactly is guilty of distraction here?



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