Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes is appealing to the public for help with making up a funding reduction of about $50,000 that occurred within the last six months.
The reduction included the loss of $20,000 from a donor who decided to support a charity in a county other than Wilkes, said Samaritan Kitchen Director Dick Johnston.
It also resulted from some of the people who normally donate throughout the year giving less or not at all, said Johnston, adding that this could be related to a new cap on charitable deductions under federal tax law.
He said that if the situation doesn’t improve, the nonprofit could have to reduce portions of food Wilkes youths receive through the nonprofit’s backpack program. This helps keep hundreds of Wilkes County school students from going hungry on weekends during the school year.
Johnston said the funding cut already caused Samaritan Kitchen to reduce the amount of food people can get each month through its Client Choice Food Pantry program by about 30%. This program serves about 1,800 Wilkes residents per month.
The reduction left Samaritan Kitchen with enough financial cushion for one month, but he said it needs enough for three months. “The money we are given normally isn’t a problem, so this kind of snuck up on us.”
Johnston said it occurred on the heels of a roughly 15% increase in the number of students served in the nonprofit’s weekend backpack program. “The number of kids served has increased each of the three years I’ve been here” at Samaritan Kitchen.
The roughly 750 students served this year in the backpack program are in kindergarten through 12th grade in all but two Wilkes public schools. Students facing food insecurity in the two schools not served by Samaritan Kitchen instead participate in church-sponsored weekend backpack programs.
“So far, no students have been turned away when it was requested for them,” Johnston added. Teachers recommend students for participation based on their observations, but students don’t participate unless their parents sign permission slips.
“On Thursdays, a designated teacher or counselor for each school picks up the backpacks and the teachers give them out on Fridays in some discreet way,” he explained.
Each backpack contains seven meals—Friday supper and three meals for Saturday and three for Sunday. It includes individual servings of food such as oatmeal, granola bars, soup, tuna, Chef-Boy-R-Dee, canned meats, potato chips and a little candy.
“I don’t doubt that food in some of the backpacks that kids bring home is shared by entire families. It’s just the way it is,” he said.
“There are a lot of people with part-time jobs and when they have the power bill, gas for the car, rent and other expenses, what suffers sometimes is food.”
Johnston said food insecurity in Wilkes has been worsened by cuts in monthly benefits provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the last couple of years.
He said that despite the financial problems many Wilkes residents face, about 90% of Samaritan Kitchen’s funding support comes from within Wilkes. Its largest single financial supporters include United Way of Wilkes and the Herring Foundation. Wilkes Communications donated the building occupied by Samaritan Kitchen, located near the intersection of N.C. 268 West and N.C. 16 North in Wilkesboro.
Numerous local churches and Sunday school classes and individuals also provide support.
Johnston said Tyson Foods Inc. is a major supporter through donations of frozen chicken, which is stored in a walk-in cooler Tyson funded. Local restaurants, supermarkets, Deal Orchards and others also donate food.
Samaritan Kitchen spends about $150,000 annually on food, paying Second Harvest Food Bank of Winston-Salem 17 cents a pound and Operation Blessing in Chesapeake, Va., 7 cents a pound.
The nonprofit employs three people fulltime and two people (truck drivers) part-time, spending about $11,000 a month on salaries.
Johnston said donations can be mailed to Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes, P.O. Box 1072, Wilkesboro, N.C. 28697.