Hard Choices & Creative Solutions to Food Insecurity in Carrboro, North Carolina

Carrboro kids Ari* and Luna* know the sacrifices their mother makes to put food on the table. They feel them every day.

Ari no longer has the drum set he’s been using for most of his 10 years because his parents had to sell it. Luna, 8, is familiar with the bus routes from their Carrboro apartment to various grocery stores because her mom also had to sell their car because they couldn’t afford it.

Both children spend their weekdays with their father because he is in a better financial situation to care for them than their mom, Belinda Schultz*. And the family even had to return their dog of 11 months to the shelter because his care was too costly.

The kids also know that there was a brief period about a year ago where food was scarce. “It was just devastating,” Belinda says. “There was, like, no food.”

July to October 2011 was the worst stretch. Belinda had moved to North Carolina from California in 2009, but life in her new state didn’t go so well. She and her husband had separated. Her main source of income from an investment went from sputtering to ceasing.

“It was a little like the Titanic when we first lost our money. It just started sinking and sinking and sinking,” Belinda says. “I had no money.”

After an eviction and a brief visit to a Chapel Hill shelter, she found a modest apartment that provided a respite from the suffering.

“When I couldn’t serve food, I felt like one of the worst mothers in the whole entire world,” Belinda says. “It was like, what kind of a mother am I that I cannot provide for a child. I remember thinking that.”

Making matters more difficult—neither Belinda nor her kids are satisfied with cheaper, unhealthier food. Ari considers watermelon and blueberries as his favorite foods and Luna has a fondness for strawberries. Ari often makes weekend breakfast, and considers churros, sorbet and rainbow chard in his repertoire. Although, to be fair, both kids also admitted to enjoying fast food.

Finding enough money to get these foods still isn’t easy. But Belinda never considered making compromises on the kind and quality of foods that her kids eat. Partly because she has suffered from severe anorexia, she recognizes the importance of eating well. “I’m adamant about eating fresh foods,” Belinda says. “I really try to avoid anything with chemicals.”

That’s where TABLE came in. The Carrboro hunger relief agency was able to help her extend the buying power of her SNAP benefits (used via an EBT card), with none of the drawbacks. “I did feel like at first, people were looking down on me. When I’d pull out the EBT card I would just feel so much shame at first,” Belinda says. “When I finally found TABLE… they are just so loving and they treated me with such high esteem.”

Being exposed to the variety of local, fresh foods that TABLE provides, many of which come from local farmers, inspired Belinda to cook more and, eventually, to grow her own food. What started last year with many pots of herbs and tomatoes on the balcony has led to an impressive 8 by 8 foot plot behind their apartment, near the Dumpster.

On a warm August day, Belinda, Ari and Luna were out tending to their raised bed. Weaving through twine strung from bamboo poles, Ari and Luna checked on their crops. The lemon cucumbers were mostly done, but they were excited to see the progress of their honeydew and moon and stars watermelon.

Belinda, who grew up in a wealthy family near San Diego, has more or less made peace with her economic status. “I just kind of live poor,” Belinda says. And Ari has also internalized the situation, self-identifying in conversation as being “poor.”

They both hope their financial situation changes eventually. But that doesn’t mean they can’t eat well in the meantime, with a little help from TABLE and the community!

* All names have been changed to provide anonymity