Trump visits Mills River, commits $1B to COVID-19 food relief

Trump visit to Mills River Aug. 24
PACKED HOUSE: President Donald Trump, accompanied by U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, second from right, and daughter Ivanka, far right, visited Flavor 1st Growers and Packers plant in Mills River on Aug. 24. Photo by Molly Horak

President Donald Trump, accompanied by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, toured Flavor 1st Growers and Packers in Mills River on Aug. 24 to see firsthand how local farmers are working to feed individuals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flavor 1st, in partnership with North Carolina nonprofit Baptists on Mission, participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Part of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the initiative purchases produce, meat and dairy from farmers who lost restaurant sales due to COVID-19 closures before packaging and distributing the products to food banks, community groups and nonprofits.

During his remarks, Trump committed an additional $1 billion to the nearly $3 billion Farmers to Families program. Ivanka Trump echoed the commitment, calling it a “win-win-win” for farmers, workers and hungry families alike. According to the program’s website, the USDA expects to distribute over 70 million boxes of food by the end of August.

“We’re tremendously grateful for what the 185 employees here at this facility have done to package nearly 7,000 boxes a week,” Donald Trump said.

But as delegates convened in Charlotte to open the Republican National Convention, the president strayed from his official business to criticize how North Carolina — led by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — and other states with Democratic leaders were handling the coronavirus pandemic. Trump called for those governors to “reopen” immediately to help boost the national economy. He also vowed that a vaccine against COVID-19 would be ready “by the end of the year,” a timeline that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously characterized as “cautiously optimistic.”

Of the approximately 300 people watching Trump’s speech, only a handful wore a face covering. Several times during his remarks, the president referred to the virus that causes COVID-19 as the “China virus.”

Trump arrived at the Asheville Regional Airport around 3 p.m. Supporters were invited to the airport tarmac to welcome the arrival of the presidential helicopter, Marine One; more supporters, waving “Trump 2020” flags from their car windows, gathered along Boylston Highway and Haywood Road in Mills River to catch a glimpse of the president’s motorcade en route to the Flavor 1st warehouse. (See also, “Trump greets supporters at Asheville Airport“)

The visit marks Trump’s first appearance in Western North Carolina since 2016. Perdue toured the Flavor 1st facility last month. White House Chief of Staff and former Republican N.C. District 11 House member Mark Meadows was also in attendance, as were Madison Cawthorn — the Republican candidate running for Meadows’ old seat — Republican N.C. District 13 House member Ted Budd and N.C. State Senator Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson.

COVID-19 among top 10 causes of death in state, Buncombe

With about 1.6% of North Carolina’s confirmed COVID-19 cases so far resulting in death, the pandemic’s fatality rate may seem fairly mild compared to that of other viruses — Ebola, for example, kills roughly 50% of all who contract it. But among the ways residents of the state and Buncombe County die, the coronavirus has nevertheless become a top 10 killer.

Since March 12, when the first North Carolina resident died of the disease, the state has reported 2,535 deaths due to the coronavirus. Based on the state’s overall deaths for 2018, the latest year for which data is available, that five-month total would already make COVID-19 the eighth-highest cause of death, placing above influenza/pneumonia and below diabetes.

COVID-19 ranks even higher among Buncombe County’s causes of death: The county’s 64 reported fatalities to date would place the disease seventh based on 2018 numbers, below Alzheimer’s and above diabetes. Cancer, heart disease and chronic lower respiratory disease, in that order, represent the top three causes of death at both the county and state levels.

In other news

  • Asheville City Schools prolonged the suspension of athletics workouts for middle and high school sports through Monday, Sept. 7. The new date, chosen out of what an ACS press release called “an abundance of precaution” over COVID-19, is two weeks after the previously planned restart date of Aug. 23.
  • Buncombe County will host a bilingual Facebook Live conversation on COVID-19 and education 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25. Panelists from the Asheville and Buncombe school districts, as well as the United Way, will share details about online instruction and provide resources for successful learning.
  • From 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, Living Web Farms in Mills River will offer the first WNC Repair Cafe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outdoor event will keep participants at a safe social distance as they learn new skills for fixing broken household objects such as small appliances and electronics.
  • The Brevard Music Center will offer its first drive-in concert on Thursday, Aug. 27, featuring Asheville-based bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers. Although tickets are sold out, the show will be livestreamed starting at 8:30 p.m. at BrevardMusic.org.

With additional reporting by Daniel Walton

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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6 thoughts on “Trump visits Mills River, commits $1B to COVID-19 food relief

  1. ron jacobs

    Meanwhile, he and the GOP-led Senate are destroying the food stamp program.

  2. luther blissett

    “the initiative purchases produce, meat and dairy from farmers who lost restaurant sales due to COVID-19 closures before packaging and distributing the products to food banks, community groups and nonprofits.”

    Huh, sounds kinda socialist.

    Anyway, President Chutzpah was at it again. We wouldn’t need billions in food aid had he not botched the federal response to the pandemic.

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