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The face of food access in McDowell: Foothills Food Hub spotlights its volunteers
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The face of food access in McDowell: Foothills Food Hub spotlights its volunteers

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Over the past 12 months, Foothills Food Hub faced an unprecedented challenge: supporting the growing food needs of a county under pandemic lockdown.

Through community partnerships, donations, and countless volunteer hours, the Food Hub distributed close to 1 ½ million pounds of food to those in need. Volunteer efforts helped feed more than 35,000 households (or nearly 150,000 individuals served since the Food Hub started recording numbers in April, 2020). Through a weekly spotlight, the Foothills Food Hub would like to recognize some of the amazing teams, groups and individuals that supported the hub through volunteer work.

The volunteer spotlight recognizes Steve Hunter, Pat Cook, Fred Elliott and James Locke of the McDowell Trails Association. Steve Hunter and Fred Elliott answered the questions on behalf of this group.

How did you first get involved with the Foothills Food Hub?

I (Steve Hunter) started volunteering in May 2020, after a presentation by Alpo Portelli from the Rotary Club. Then the Food Hub wanted organizations to Adopt a Shift, so in August, I recruited four others from the MTA and all have loved packing boxes at the Hub.

What is your first memory or most memorable experience volunteering for the Foothills Food Hub?

Our group prides ourselves on packing the most boxes in a shift and our record so far is 192 boxes in less than three hours. We also donated three carts that helped tremendously on efficiency when carrying cartons of food to load into boxes.

What has surprised you most about working with the Hub to address hunger in McDowell County?

At the beginning of 2020, there were about 150 boxes packed per week, but after COVID and the economic downturn, this number grew to 1,000 boxes a week. The need is real!

What is one thing you wish more people knew about Foothills Food Hub?

There are still many opportunities for volunteers at the Hub. Also, the food that is distributed is a physical box that contains a good mixture of foods. There are also refrigerated and frozen foods such as meats, fresh produce, bakery items that are donated by local groceries and farmers.

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Why is supporting the Foothills Food Hub to address hunger in McDowell County important to you?

The MTA recognizes that hunger is a problem in the county and our group feels a sense of accomplishment when packing boxes.

When your friends/family find out that you volunteer, what do they say or ask?

Most everyone that knows about the MTA effort recognizes what a great service our group provides for the community

Tell us about someone or something that influenced your decision to work with the Food Hub.

As a member of the Rotary Club, and the emphasis on “Service above Self,” helped with the decision. From the MTA standpoint, we feel we are setting the example for organizations to volunteer and would like to challenge other groups to join in our effort.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren't volunteering with us? What gives you joy outside of volunteer and community work?

Being a part of the MTA community. The McDowell Trails Association (MTA) is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation created to plan, develop, build and provide education and support for non-motorized trails in McDowell County, North Carolina. Our mission is to partner with local governments, agencies, clubs and associations in order to create greenways, blueways and non-motorized trails that will promote health, recreational and economic opportunities for residents and visitors in McDowell County.

Our legacy of projects include the: Point Lookout Trail, Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway, Peavine Trail and the Corpening Memorial Greenway.

Future projects include expanding the Fonta Flora State Trail from Burke County to Buncombe County.

Check us out at

Do you have any advice for someone that's thinking about or is interested in signing up to volunteer?

If you have three hours a week to spare and want to feel good about helping your community, volunteering at the Food Hub is a very rewarding experience.

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