PUBLIC POLICY LUNCHEON: Food bank rep makes appeal for local volunteers, donations

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

The director of a regional food bank that serves Lee County — reportedly donating 790,000 pounds of food worth more than $1.3 million last year — visited Sanford on Monday to make a case for even stronger local participation.

Michael Cotten directs the Sandhills Branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. In addition to the nearly 800,000 pounds of food he said his group gave to local charities last year — including the Christians United Outreach Center food bank, plus local shelters and school-based groups — he said addressing hunger will also address other social ills.

The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce hosted Cotten as part of its Public Policy Luncheon series. Cotten, a former prison administrator and a member of the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine, said some people argue that they shouldn't donate to put food on the table of someone who has, for example, five kids and no job.

But he said his counter-argument is that they'll still have to pay later, except it'll be through taxes and the social costs of hunger's consequences.

"If we have kids that go to school hungry, they can't concentrate and may drop out and end up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system, which I saw firsthand for so many years," he said. "... You either deal with [hunger] on the front end or pay for it on the back end."

Joining Cotten was George Norman from the regional food bank's board of directors. Norman said the group has a number of projects in the works in addition to normal aid, including "Stop Summer Hunger," which will be open to the 6,000-plus students in Lee County Schools who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches throughout the summer when school is out.

But that will cost about $30,000, Norman said, so donations are needed — as well as volunteers to staff a concession booth during the men's and women's U.S. Opens this June at Pinehurst. Proceeds from the booth will benefit the food bank, as well as Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills.

All volunteers will receive a ticket to the tournament, plus lunch and a U.S. Open hat, in exchange for working an eight-hour shift. For more information, call Cotten at (910) 494-0155 or (910) 692-5959 x 2401, or email him at mcotten@foodbankcenc.org. Volunteers will be needed from June 8-22.

Norman said the food bank's Sandhills Branch board of directors also is in need of several more Lee County members.

John Ramsperger, the Sanford real estate agent who organizes the chamber luncheons, said the regional food bank is especially important in times like these, when local groups might be struggling.

"When the economy tanks, need goes up and donations go where? Down," Ramsperger said.

Norman said 97 cents out of every dollar donated to the food bank go toward getting food, and he prefers cash donations over food donations because of the group's special relationships with grocery stores, farms and other providers.

"If you give me a can that costs a dollar, that's great," he said. "But if you give me a dollar, I can turn it into 10 meals, not a part of one meal."