Big problems aren’t unsolvable, they just require a little more creativity, a little more time, and a lot more collaboration. Over the years, our High Point community has faced a very big problem – food insecurity. The USDA defines food insecurity as reduced quality and variety in diet, as well as disruption to regular food intake – meaning lack of access to nutritious and consistent food. Unfortunately, the Triad consistently ranks in the top 20s for food insecurity across a variety of surveys and study tools.
And yet – there are members of the High Point community who decided that these statistics wouldn’t get the final say in telling the story of High Point and food. In 2014, the Greater High Point Food Alliance formed with the centering belief that together, our city could come together to enact long-lasting change on the landscape of High Point’s food security.
But because of the size of the problem of food insecurity, the leadership at Greater High Point Food Alliance knew that it would take more than one non-profit or one part of the process to improve food security for our city. While there are many doing work to improve the challenges facing High Point (Feeding Lisa’s Kids, A Simple Gesture, Growing High Point, Hope Food Co., and more), today we are sharing the story of one specific organization, the Burns Hill Neighborhood Association food pantry and community garden.
It’s a rainy Tuesday, and Burns Hill Food Pantry is opened by the neighborhood association president, Jerry Mingo. Jif peanut butter has just issued a recall of their peanut butter products, and Jerry is carefully checking for any products in the food pantry that may need to be thrown out.
As an original member of the Greater High Point Food Alliance Board of Directors, Jerry was asked in 2015 if he would be willing to step in as the president of the food pantry.
“I guess I was asked because I was a neighborhood leader,” Jerry laughs, at the question of how he ended up in his position at Burns Hill. The 27260 zip code where Burns Hill community is located is one of primary areas for food insecurity and food deserts in High Point.
of primary areas for food insecurity and food deserts in High Point.
But Jerry doesn’t just work in the Burns Hill community; he lives in it. At 74-years-old, Jerry is a lifelong resident of High Point and member of the Burns Hill community. Growing up with seven siblings, Jerry watched his father grow a garden and his mother can countless jars of vegetables and fruits to feed their family during the winter months.
“Between the ages of 5 and 15, I bet I washed a million mason jars,” Jerry shared during his presentation at Greater High Point Food Alliance’s annual Food Security Summit this year. However, Jerry also notes that he didn’t have to experience food insecurity as a child, thanks to his parents’ careful planning and ability to grow their own food. Today, less and less people grow their own food, which is one of the reasons Burns Hill decided to build a community garden.
The garden, which sits across the street from the food pantry, is filled with produce that Jerry and his volunteers can harvest to provide as fresh additions to the boxes of canned and boxed food that the food pantry distributes each month. The signs that bring a warm and friendly air to the garden are made by Jerry himself.
After retiring from Banner Pharmaceuticals, Jerry still works roughly two days a week at the food pantry, keeping shelves stocked, making sure the products are good, and helping mind the community garden. Every first and third Thursday of the month, he and a group of volunteers pack and distribute boxes of food to clients who come to Burns Hill Food Pantry each month.
“We’re set up to serve the immediate neighborhood,” Jerry explains, “but we don’t turn anybody away.”
At this point, Burns Hill serves around 70 households per month, that number having increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. And what stands out most to Jerry about the community that he serves is the age demographic of the average client.
“My oldest client right now is 92,” Jerry shares, noting that the food for this elderly community member is delivered. “But the primary group is between 50 and 60 years old.”
And while many of these retirees and seniors are on fixed incomes, they are also caring for their grandkids at home, working to feed several mouths with limited resources.
“We have a check sheet where they can choose some things they want,” Jerry explains, but each box is packed based on family size and balanced nutrition. Volunteers from the city – and even volunteers outside of High Point – come to prepare the boxes for clients to take. The canned and boxed items that stock the food pantry come from donations from places like A Simple Gesture and the United Way of Greater High Point, as well as from individual donations.
Jerry also works to make sure that families have resources that meet their needs beyond just the basic food items. Backpack packs are made with kid-friendly items especially for families with little ones, and Jerry worked with High Point University VISTA, Gabby Kozlowski, to make recipe cards to be included in the boxes of food.
“People don’t know how to cook things,” he explains, noting someone may be inclined to try a new and nutritious item if they’re given some simple instruction on how to prepare it.
And while the work of ending food insecurity in High Point is far from over it, it’s the work of High Point community members like Jerry that is slowly but surely changing the story and the statistics.
“I always say, I am just excited about the people who come to the food pantry because they’re the ones that actually need it,” Jerry says, noting how much he likes meeting his neighbors while he serves them. “We serve the needy not the greedy!”
Hear from Jerry Mingo at the Greater High Point Food Alliance's 2022 annual Food Security Summit.
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The HPD Team