Ingles pledges support for UNC Asheville Food Equity Initiative

Press release from UNC Asheville:

Each Tuesday, on the University of North Carolina Asheville campus, the Food Equity Initiative (FEI) hosts a pop-up event on the Quad. The two-hour student-led event is a chance for students, faculty, and staff facing food insecurities to pick up non-perishable food supplies anonymously. Now, with the support of Ingles Markets, securing food donations for this vital cause just became more reliable.

“When Ingles learned of the UNC Asheville Food Equity Program, we knew immediately this was a place we could make an impact,” says Melissa Leavell,  director of advertising for Ingles Markets. “The combination of our valuable partnership with UNCA Athletics and our mission to work within our communities to fight hunger came together perfectly.  We are honored to be part of this program.”

The Food Equity Initiative is a student-run organization dedicated to eliminating food insecurity, focusing on health and sustainability.  The program launched in January 2018 with a Walnut Cove Members Association grant. Their mission was to guarantee that every member of the UNC Asheville community would have access to adequate, culturally appropriate, and nutritious food for themselves and their families.

“The monthly donation from Ingles allows FEI to expand what we are able to offer to students and community members beyond basic food necessities,” says FEI Assistant Director Naomi Todd ‘23. “With this money, we are excited to be able to have more hygiene items and food items that students might not normally have access to.”

“Approximately 45-50% of university students are food insecure nationwide, and 15-20% are severely food insecure,” according to the FEI website. On the campus of UNC Asheville, “a 2017 survey revealed that 10% of faculty and staff at UNC Asheville “sometimes” or “often” worried their food would run out before they could get money to buy more, and 6% of faculty and staff reported that the food they bought did not last until their next paycheck.”

At the weekly FEI pop-up event, “we typically have pasta meals, condiments, granola bars, mashed potatoes, applesauce, pasta sauce, canned fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, and spices. Some non-food items we usually have are condoms, menstrual products, and can openers,” says Todd.

Ingles Markets has pledged $500 a month to stock the Food Equity Initiative program with non-perishable food supplies. This donation ensures that there will always be accessible food items for the University community. It also allows the student project managers to spend less time sourcing food donations.

According to the FEI, “It’s a common misconception that university students, faculty, and staff are immune from food insecurity and similar issues. In reality, students, faculty, and staff represent the same economic spectrum of the communities they inhabit. Food insecurity on the UNC Asheville campus equals the risk shared within the broader Asheville and WNC community.” Over the last two years, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has only increased. “The pandemic has definitely contributed to food insecurity among students. There have been devastating financial impacts of the pandemic, which have made food access much more complicated—especially for college students,” says Todd.

In addition to their support of the Food Equity Initiative, Ingles Markets has engaged in a long-standing partnership with the Bulldog Athletic Department across various events and promotions. Throughout the 2022 Baseball season, Ingles provides free admission to fans and continues to help strike out hunger by donating $1 to Feeding America every time a Bulldog pitcher strikes out an opposing team’s batter. And throughout the just-completed 2021-22 basketball season, Ingles donated $3 to Asheville P.E.A.K. Academy, a tuition-free charter school, every time a men’s or women’s basketball player made a three-point basket. 

Donations like this from Ingles Markets provide next-level support for the Food Equity Initiative. There are simple ways to help support this initiative on a campus level. “FEI distributions are part of some people’s weekly routines, and there are students that regularly come by every week that I look forward to seeing!” says Todd. “Attending our distributions is really helpful because as long as people continue to attend, we can continue having them every week. Advertising or telling friends about the distributions is also helpful in spreading the word about what the Food Equity Initiative is.”

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