The Beat: Feeling thankful

The tough economy and higher fuel costs didn't keep travelers from taking to the skies or the highway this Thanksgiving, 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 Tar Heel motorists drove more than 50 miles from home, up 11 percent from last year, according to estimates from AAA Carolinas. And despite a statewide shift from flying to driving, the Asheville Regional Airport bucked the trend, with 4,157 pre-booked flights between Nov. 24 and Nov. 28, compared with 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, the airport’s marketing and public relations director. “With the addition of several nonstop 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 average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Asheville was $2.85, up 22 cents from Thanksgiving 2009, according to AAA Carolinas.

Sadly, however, not everyone in Western North Carolina could afford to travel — or have much of a holiday celebration at all, for that matter.

In "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.”

"These are children who literally do not know where their next meal will come from," explained Lynn Harvey, child nutrition director for the state Department of Public Instruction.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 17.5 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table, the article reported. That means a lot of children are depending on outside assistance — often in the form of free or reduced-price public-school lunches — to stave off hunger.

To be eligible for the National School Lunch Program, a family’s income must be no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, the article notes. 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.

Man down

In another sobering story, more than 100 family members, friends and members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group turned out at the Asheville Airport to honor the flag-draped casket of Army Pfc. Christian "Kade" Michael Warriner, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported last week in "Fallen Soldier's Body Arrives in Asheville." The Mills River resident was one of five soldiers killed Nov. 14 when their unit came under fire in Kunar Province in Afghanistan, according to the article. Warriner joined the Army in July 2009.

In a separate post, the newspaper also noted that 14 Western North Carolina residents have been killed in the line of duty since 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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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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