Hot and hungry

Hot weather continues to hammer Asheville. If it keeps up, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the "Heat Wave Could Break WNC Record" for the most consecutive days the temperature has climbed to 84 degrees or higher. According to the article, WNC residents have suffered through the longest stretch of June days topping the mark since 1952, when Harry Truman was president.

Short-lived celebration: Local soccer fans reveled in the U.S. team's World Cup win over Algeria. A few days later, however, the team was eliminated from the tournament after losing to Ghana. Photo by Anne Fitten Glenn

It's ironic then, that AOL Travel recently declared Asheville one of the "Coolest Cities in the States."

"Cooling breezes sweep down over bohemian Asheville from the Blue Ridge Mountains, keeping the days balmy and summer nights deliciously warm rather than uncomfortably hot," writes Aefa Mulholland. "Perched at an altitude of 2,134 feet, things keep pretty cool around here, and mean summer temperatures hover in the 70s."

Of course, it's true that WNC has had it much better than the rest of state.  In "Forecasters Warn of Dangerous Heat Indexes in NC," BlueRidgeNow reports that the National Weather Service recently issued heat advisories for the eastern half of North Carolina, which has seen temperatures hovering in the upper 90s. The advisory means that the combination of very hot temperatures and high humidity could lead to the possibility of heat-related illness.

For many low-income children in the area, however, malnutrition is a bigger worry than the heat, reports the Smoky Mountain News. According to the cover story "Summer Poses Challenge for Feeding Low-Income Kids," thousands of low-income children across Western North Carolina rely on schools to get at least one square meal a day. But with classes now out for summer, there's no easy solution for keeping kids fed.

Throughout North Carolina, about 700,000 children qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year, but only 53,000 (or about 8 percent) get free meals during the summer, says Cynthia Ervin, North Carolina summer food service programs coordinator.

"We have a lot of work to do," Ervin tells the paper. "I believe we can do better than 8 percent."

"It's scary to know they don't have nutrition on a regular basis," adds Beth Stahl, MANNA Food Bank youth programs coordinator. "We're trying to fill in the gaps, but it's a slow process."

Leave God out of it

Ahead of the July 4 holiday, a statewide coalition of North Carolina atheists and agnostics has been making waves with a controversial billboard campaign to show that the nonreligious can be patriotic.

According to "NC Atheists put Billboard on Billy Graham Parkway" — a story by the Associated Press that's been picked up by outlets across the country — the signs contain imagery of the American flag with the words "One Nation Indivisible." The N.C. Secular Association intentionally left out the words "Under God," which were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

The Asheville billboard is located on Interstate 26, less than half a mile from Pond Road. The signs were also placed in five other cities across the state, including one in Charlotte along the Billy Graham Parkway.

In the AP article, Rev. Mark Harris, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, calls the decision to put one on Billy Graham Parkway "at best, in poor taste and, at worst, a disgrace."

"We're doing this to raise the consciousness of the people of North Carolina," counters William Warren of Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics. "We want to let them know that not everybody here is religious. There are atheists in North Carolina, and we expect to be recognized and treated like everybody else."

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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