Smithfield Foods, Inc., and the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recently held an event at Smithfield’s facility in Kinston, N.C., to launch Rally Against Rural Hunger. The program is an initiative which aims to raise awareness about rural hunger in both North Carolina and across the nation and the strategies that exist to solve it.
“Too often hunger is portrayed as an urban problem, yet rural areas face considerably deeper struggles with hunger,” said Alexandra Ashbrook, director of special projects and initiatives for FRAC. “We are thrilled to be joining forces with a company, Smithfield Foods, that has consistently demonstrated its commitment to addressing hunger here in North Carolina, and across the nation.”
North Carolina is home to the second largest rural population in the country. According to FRAC, 17 percent of all households in the state cannot afford to buy enough food. By increasing access to federal nutrition programs, such as school lunch and breakfast, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), summer meals, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), child care meals, and afterschool meals, rural areas can mitigate the harms of hunger and poverty while gaining an infusion of federal funding that stimulates the local economy.
“A significant percentage of our students are only guaranteed something to eat when they are at school,” said Frances Herring, associate superintendent of Lenoir County Public Schools. “School meals play a critical role in ensuring our children have access to the nutrition they need so they are ready to learn. We are grateful that Smithfield Foods and FRAC will be promoting solutions like this to address child hunger in rural counties like here in Lenoir.”
Herring noted that the overall poverty rate in Lenoir County is 23.2 percent and nearly 70 percent of the overall student population is eligible for free and reduced lunch.
“While North Carolina farmers help feed the nation, too many of our state’s rural children go hungry. Access to healthy and nutritious food is important in making sure kids come to school ready to learn,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Our department works with participating school systems across the state through our Farm to School Program to have local produce on the menu. It is a great program that offers fresh and nutritious options, helps children make a connection to where their food comes from, and provides a new market for our growers.”
Dennis Pittman, senior director of hunger relief, said that Smithfield Foods partnership with FRAC builds on the company’s efforts to help Americans become more food secure through its signature program, Helping Hungry Homes. The program annually provides millions of pounds of nutritious, high-quality protein to food banks, school nutrition programs, disaster relief efforts and community outreach programs across the country.
“As a global food company, we understand the benefits of proper nutrition, and we’re passionate about ending hunger,” said Pittman. “We value our responsibility to help our neighbors here in North Carolina and across the country—whether they live in rural, urban or suburban areas-- get enough food to eat for their health and well-being. That’s something we can all agree on, and something we all must act on."