The tough economy and higher fuel costs didn’t keep travelers off the roads or out of the skies this Thanksgiving season, which is traditionally the busiest travel time of the year.
In “More Travelers Hitting the Roads in North Carolina,” BlueRidgeNow reported that more than 1.1 million NC motorists drove more than 50 miles from home, up 11 percent from last year, according to estimates from AAA Carolinas. And despite a state-wide shift of people preferring to drive rather than fly, the Asheville Regional Airport bucked the trend, with 4,157 pre-booked flights from Nov. 24 through Nov. 28, compared to 2,914 for that time period last year.
“This increase really does mimic the increases we’ve been experiencing for the past year,” explained Tina Kinsey, ARA Marketing and Public Relations Director. “With the addition of several non-stop flights, we’ve been experiencing record growth in 2010.”
The article also revealed that drivers who filled their tanks locally paid more for gas than anyone else in the state. The highest average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was in Asheville at $2.85, up 22 cents over Thanksgiving 2009, according to AAA Carolinas.
Sadly, not everyone in Western North Carolina was able to afford the costs of travel this year – or much of any Thanksgiving celebration at all.
In the cover story, “Going Hungry: Many in Region, Particularly Children, Are Doing Without for Thanksgiving,” the Smoky Mountain News reported that North Carolina ranks second in the number of children and adults who are food insecure. “That essentially means that these are children who literally do not know where their next meal will come from,” explained Lynn Harvey, Child Nutrition Director for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
The article reported that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around 15 percent of the nation — 17.5 million people — are struggling to put food on the table, which translates into scores of children depending on outside sources of food to stave off their hunger. Often times that assistance comes in the form of free or reduced lunches at public schools.
To get free lunch through the federal government’s National School Lunch Program, a family must be living at or below 130 percent of the national poverty level, according to the article. For a family of four, that’s $28,665 this year. In Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, more than half of public school students qualify.
In another sobering cover story ahead of the holiday season, last week the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that “Fallen Soldier’s Body Arrives in Asheville.” The flag-draped casket of Army Pfc. Christian “Kade” Michael Warriner was greeted at the Asheville Airport by more than 100 family members, friends and members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group. Warriner, of Mills River, was one of five soldiers killed Nov. 14 when their unit came under fire by insurgents in Kunar Province in Afghanistan, according to the article. He joined the Army in July 2009.
In a separate post, the daily paper also rounded up the “Asheville-area military deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan.” According to the article,14 Western North Carolina members of the military have been killed in the line of duty since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.