Feeding hungry families

“No one should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” proclaims MANNA Food Bank Executive Director Toby Ives. The Asheville-based organization, which serves 17 WNC counties, reports a 26.7 percent increased in food distribution in 2001, compared to 2000. Through a network involving more than 340 charitable agencies, more than 68,500 individuals were served last year.

But even that increase is not enough to meet current demand, Ives reports. In the wake of Sept. 11, the major downturn in the economy, and subsequent massive layoffs and plant closings, growing numbers of Americans are simply unable to feed their families.

To be sure, this isn’t strictly a local problem. MANNA recently joined forces with America’s Second Harvest — the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S. — to issue a call to action to feed hungry Americans. The national group reports that 80 percent of its affiliates are experiencing higher demand, and that an additional 365 million pounds of food will be needed this year, nationwide.

“With the recent economic slowdown, more and more people are turning to local hunger-relief agencies for assistance,” explains Ives. “Forty-one new agencies became partners with MANNA in 2001; 26 in the last six months. Thousands of Western North Carolinians have recently lost their jobs. Some people who are just barely making ends meet now must contend with reduced hours or less pay. Seniors who had planned on more secure retirements now face plummeting investment income. These are just a few examples of the new faces of hunger we’ve seen in the past several months.”

Ives outlined ways individuals, companies and organizations can get involved. “We need more companies to donate food products. We need money to purchase food and pay for transportation to get it where it is needed most. And we need volunteers to help us solicit, sort and move the food through our system.

“The need is great, but working together, we can begin to address this need and help feed hungry Americans now. I hope every Western North Carolinian will call us up to find out what they can do to help get more food to where it is needed most.”

To learn more about how you can help, call MANNA at 299-3663.

Gospel Choirfest highlights health concerns affecting African-American women

The YWCA of Asheville Witness Project will hold a free Gospel Choirfest on Friday March 15, 7-9 p.m. at Asheville Middle School (197 S. French Broad Ave.) It’s a chance to enjoy performances by local gospel groups while learning about vital health issues affecting African-American women. Refreshments will be served.

The Witness Project is a national program presented in churches and community centers across the country to increase awareness of breast and cervical cancer among African-American women. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, many of the deaths resulting from these diseases — which occur disproportionately among women of racial and ethnic minority — can be avoided by increasing cancer-screening rates among all women at risk.

For more information about the Choirfest, call Harrietta Mason at 281-0174.

Calling all cheerleaders

Bele Chere, long acknowledged as one of the top 20 festivals in the Southeast by the Southeastern Tourism Society, is premiering a new event this year. The first annual cheerleading competition will happen Friday July 26 at 4 p.m. High-school cheerleading squads are invited to prove their talent by performing a five-minute routine including chants, cheers and dancing. Competitors will vie for such prizes as trophies, a spirit stick and Bele Chere apparel; the winning squad will participate in the Bele Chere parade on Saturday July 27.

The judges will include college cheerleaders, professional cheerleaders and cheerleading advisers. There will be separate divisions for school squads and nonaffiliated squads. This year’s event is limited to squads from Western North Carolina, but in future years, the scope may be expanded to include groups from across the Southeast. Michelle Porter of the city’s Festivals Division reports, “We already have a ton of people interested, and we hope to gain a lot more.”

And even though July may seem a long way off, event organizers note that all entries must be received by March 30.

For details and a registration form, call Michelle Porter at (828) 259-5689

Conference targets aspiring writers

Writers serious about getting published may want to check out an upcoming conference hosted by the Writers’ Workshop March 22-24 at the Best Western in Asheville. The event will include workshops (covering everything from writing tips to query letters to getting an agent), readings and a panel discussion featuring senior editors from Algonquin Books, John Blair Publishers, Front Street Books, The Oxford American and The Georgia Review.

Workshops include “Writing and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults” with Joy Neaves, an editor at Front Street Books; “Revising and Publishing Fiction and Nonfiction Books” with Kathy Pories of Algonquin Books; “Marketing Strategies and Getting Published” with Ed Southern of John Blair Publishers; “How to Sell Fiction and Nonfiction Articles” with Marc Smirnoff, founder/editor of The Oxford American; and “Poetry Revision and Getting Published” with Stephen Corey, an editor at The Georgia Review.

There will also be readings by editors, conference participants and Stephen Marion, whose highly acclaimed first novel, Hollow Ground, won the Arthur Lynn Andrews Prize for Fiction.

The cost for the entire weekend is $165 (excluding room and meals) or $205 (including lunch and dinner on Saturday). Individual workshops and panel discussions cost $45; admission to readings is $12. And for an additional charge of $25, instructors will read manuscripts of up to 10 pages.

In related news, the Writers’ Workshop recently received a $10,000 grant from the Newman Foundation (a project of actor Paul Newman) to continue providing writing classes for at-risk youth in WNC. The project, begun several years ago with funding from The Janirve Foundation, now serves clients at The Eliada Home for Children, the Swannanoa Youth Academy and the ABCCM Shelter on Coxe Avenue. The Writers’ Workshop invites inquiries from people interested in taking classes or volunteering to arrange and conduct them.

For more information about the conference or the at-risk-youth writing program, contact the Writers’ Workshop at 254-8111 or

Mountain Sports Festival rides again

If you love outdoor sports like climbing, paddling, running or biking — or even the lesser known disc golf — mark the weekend of May 31 to June 2 on your calendar. That’s when the second annual Mountain Sports Festival happens in Asheville. Besides highlighting our lovely Appalachian Mountains, the event will also offer a slew of competitive, recreational and educational outdoor opportunities. There’s no charge to watch, and even participation in some festival events is free.

Asheville’s City/County Plaza will be festival central, featuring food, entertainment and such fun activities as a high-ropes challenge and kayak-rolling demos. Assorted sporting events will take place throughout the city and farther afield in such beauty spots as Alexander Park, Biltmore Estate, Lake Julian, the Trace Ridge Trail, the French Broad River corridor and the Richmond Hill Disc Golf Course.

Scheduled competitions include mountain biking (both cross country and a dual slalom); climbing (the Junior Competitive Climbers Association event); running (Biltmore Estate 15K, Trail Run, YMCA 5K and fun run, and a Junior Olympic Track & Field Meet for youths ages 6-18); paddling (the Lotus Designs Sea-Tow Relay, Asheville Rodeo Hole Mad End Throwing Contest and Fat Eddy Rope Throwing Contest); and a disc golf tournament. The sixth annual RiverLink Triathlon (combining running, paddling and cycling) will also be incorporated into the festival. Additionally, there will be various free clinics and equipment demos.

Although the festival emphasizes sports, event organizers say they want to achieve much more than just getting people outside to play. Board chairman Steve Thompson explains: “As we select events for the Mountain Sports Festival, it is important that the event conveys an appreciation for what the mountains bring to our area, and how the environment they create allows us to play so extensively within them. But even more importantly, festival participants should better understand how to preserve and conserve the resources provided by our area as a result of their time here.”

Volunteers are needed both to assist with event planning and to help ensure a smooth-running festival. Interested individuals should fill out the volunteer form on the festival’s Web site; they will be contacted by a volunteer coordinator.

More detailed info is posted at the festival Web site ( Or contact The Mountain Sports Festival at P.O. box 7521, Asheville, NC 28802; 285-9935; or

Silent auction to benefit community groups

A silent auction to benefit both the Asheville Community Resource Center and the Asheville Prison Book Program happens Saturday March 23, 6-9 p.m. Sponsored by Dirt and Skypeople galleries (both at 51 N. Lexington Ave.), the event will feature works by talented artists from Asheville and the surrounding area. A silent preview starts Saturday March 16; all works will be on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and are open to bidding. Final bidding will take place on auction night. Winners will be announced that evening, and there will be free food and beverages as well as live music.

The Resource Center was launched about a year ago to give community-based activist organizations in Asheville a stable home base. The coalition includes the Asheville Prison Book Program, Earth First!, the Asheville Mutual Aid Society (working to redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted), and the Bike Library (aiming to increase bicycle use by providing information on how to fix and maintain bikes as well as free or low-cost bikes to low-income people).

The Prison Book Program, started in 1999, seeks to provide prisoners with much-needed books and educational materials. The all-volunteer organization relies entirely on donations.

For more information, call 253-1103.

Meditation workshop promotes compassion

“Only by creating peace within our own mind and helping others do the same can we hope to achieve peace in this world.”

— Ven Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder/spiritual director, Kosala Center

Gen Kelsang Tilopa, the resident teacher at Asheville’s Kosala Center (68 Henrietta St.), believes that meditation can help us overcome negativity and cultivate loving kindness, compassion and wisdom. Meditation, he explains, helps practitioners “achieve a more healthy mental, spiritual and physical life and experience a remarkable inner peace and happiness” while, at the same time, increasing “our power to bring happiness to others.”

Tilopa teaches many different types of meditation but emphasizes the 21 meditations known as the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. Practiced in India and Tibet for more than 2,500 years, says Tilopa, “These meditations are simple to understand, easy to put into practice in our busy lives, yet provide extraordinarily effective methods for dealing with every kind of human problem.”

The Kosala Center will host a special weekend of spiritual practice the weekend of March 22-24. On Saturday, Tilopa will grant the Empowerment of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion). He explains, “The basis of all spiritual paths and of all happiness is a mind of compassion wishing others to become free from all suffering.”

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, there will be special prayers for world peace using the practice of Avalokiteshvara. All are welcome to attend, whether they’re complete beginners or experienced practitioners. The teachings and meditations are suitable for anyone wishing to develop a loving and compassionate mind, whether as a Buddhist or while following any other spiritual path. The suggested donation for the weekend is $60, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

For more information about this and other classes and programs, call 253-4744 or visit the Kosala Center Web site (

Merchants of cool

Citizens for Media Literacy and the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) announce a free screening of Merchants of Cool — an award-winning PBS documentary that examines how marketers target teens and adolescents — at Pack Library’s Lord Auditorium.

The film includes interviews with media executives and cultural critics, who discuss the changed culture in which kids are growing up today and the forces influencing this change. As New York Times critic Ron Wertheimer put it: “Some of the biggest and savviest corporations in the world are drooling over the cash smoldering in the pockets of your teenagers’ name-brand jeans. These commercial commandos are so skillful at extracting it that the poor lambs think each purchase is all their own idea.”

The screening will take place on Wednesday, March 20, at 6 p.m. An audience discussion will follow — including a look at organizing ongoing media-literacy efforts in local schools and the community.

For more information, visit MAIN’s home page at or call 255-0182.

A “reforming” breakfast

A panel discussion featuring Asheville’s present and past mayors will tackle the hot topic of municipal campaign-finance reform. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, the breakfast meeting will be held on Thursday, March 21, at 7:30 a.m. in Biltmore Village’s Depot Restaurant.

Mayor Charles Worley, along with past mayors Leni Sitnick and Russ Martin, will be among the participants. Topics will include the escalating costs of running for local office, and the personal and civic ramifications of the current campaign-finance system. A question-and-answer session will follow the panel discussion.

For more information and breakfast reservations, call the League of Women Voters at 258-8223.

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