A Season of Giving: Beach Food Pantry Fights Hunger In Dare County

 In Just Causes, OBX Community

Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne

As the holidays draw closer, the local nonprofit Beach Food Pantry prepares for its busiest season. The benevolent organization works to end hunger in Dare County each day of the year. 

Times like fall and winter, where the needs of food insecure families and individuals double, they are overcome with the help of volunteers, businesses, and groups that come together to display the incredible spirit of our coastal community.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see the difference you’re making every day,” says Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne. Silverthorne came to lead the Beach Food Pantry in July after working with the Dare Education Foundation for seven years. “My Board, the Pantry volunteers, and our community are amazing in the way they care for and serve our clients. And our clients are incredible models of gratitude and resilience.”

The organization has been assisting Dare County residents since 1989 by providing temporary assistance of food and information regarding other services to alleviate hunger and poverty. Last year, they distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food to more than 4,000 people with the help of donations, volunteer hours, and community fundraisers.

“I think this work appeals to me because food is such a basic human need,” says Silverthorne, “but it’s more than that. It’s a sensory experience. It’s a creative endeavor. It’s a social connection. It’s science in action. Some of my best childhood memories [center] around cooking with my Omi. So this work is about more than fueling bodies.”

Beach Food Pantry strives to provide healthy and nutritional food items including pantry staples, fresh vegetables, meat, and dairy – with the belief that proper nutrition is of the utmost importance for busy households. Through community support, the nonprofit is able to gather donations and purchase goods from grocery stores at a minimal per pound cost to distribute to Outer Banks residents in need. The individuals and families served are given a minimum two-week supply of food and can seek temporary assistance up to four times per year.

Of the volunteers and fundraisers, Silverthorne says, “Both are integral to our existence.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables avaliable daily at the Pantry. Volunteers from left to right: Dianne Kotasenski, Leslie Kornosewicz, Paul Masica, and Elder Porter Esplin.

Volunteers serve in various ways seven days a week, and local business fundraisers – from Waverider’s Coffee & Deli’s Jazz and Jingle music and shopping experience to Bonzer Shack’s annual “Let’s Can Hunger” Food Drive with live music and a surfboard raffle – allow the Pantry both to purchase items and maintain the Kitty Hawk distribution facility.

Throughout the year, Beach Food Pantry also runs programs like Summer Food for Kids, which gives the children of Dare County access to healthy, nutritional food choices throughout the summer months. Approximately 42 percent of students in county schools meet the criteria for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, but that program ends with the school year.

In 2018, 86 children were served for ten weeks in the initiative’s most successful year yet with the help of grants from Dominion Energy and North Banks Rotary, as well as a gift from Surf Pediatrics and Medicine.

Beach Pantry volunteers in action. From left to right: Mission trip Elder Glenn Workman of Lebanon, OR, John Klamut, Mission trip Elder Porter Esplin of Boise, ID, and Paul Masica.

“The additional funds allowed for a longer service period, more food, and more variety,” says Silverthorne.

Prior to Thanksgiving, the Beach Food Pantry accepts donations of Thanksgiving Meal Bags – including a turkey or gift card to purchase one, along with items for a traditional holiday meal – to help clients celebrate the holiday. And each year in December, the much-anticipated Beach Food Pantry Holiday Chefs Challenge draws culinary enthusiasts, as Outer Banks chefs compete for the title of Prince or Princess of Canned Goods.

Volunteers Dianne Kotasenski, Steve Hachtman, Paul Kotasenski.

During the competition, each chef is given 60 minutes to make a dish using ingredients that the Pantry would normally keep in stock, including at least one canned good. Attendees and a three-judge panel then vote for their favorites.

This year’s fifth annual Holiday Chefs Challenge is presented by Surf Pediatrics and Medicine and will take place at Duck Woods Country Club on December 13. The judge panel includes Eboni Henry, a finalist on MasterChef. Some of the participating restaurants will include Barefoot Bernie’s, Blue Moon Beach Grill, Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar, The SaltBox Café, Red Sky Cafe, and Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant.

My husband Paul and I have been volunteering at the Beach Food Pantry since we moved to the Outer Banks a little over 2 years ago. It started as volunteering with my church, St. Andrews by the Sea, and grew to every week on Wednesdays with a great group of people I consider family. No one should be hungry or go without food, and the pantry makes sure that doesn’t happen. The pantry helps so many residents in need but also those  who serve. ~Volunteer, Dianne Kotasenski

Whether attending an event, making a donation, or volunteering at the Kitty Hawk location, there are countless ways to get involved with Beach Food Pantry to help the estimated 4,370 people of Dare County who are food insecure – 1,470 of whom are children.

Ongoing volunteer opportunities include picking up food from local supermarkets and sorting, stocking, and readying the pantry for serving clients. If you’re interested in donating food, some of the most needed items during the cooler seasons are canned chicken or tuna, brown or white rice, canned vegetables and fruits, and toiletries like toothbrushes and toothpaste. (A full list is available at BeachFoodPantry.com.)

Special thanks to Food Lion and Fresh Market in Nags Head for their weekly food donations.

No matter how you choose to assist, your efforts mean so much to so many.

“When you’re struggling in the ways many of our clients are when they come in, many aren’t feeling especially hopeful,” says Silverthorne. “The food they get reminds them there is hope for tomorrow and they are cared for just as they are.”

Throughout it all, Silverthorne recognizes that our Outer Banks community thrives when we come together for good. She says, “The future is bright and exciting!”

If you are a Dare County resident experiencing a temporary crisis or emergency, you can further information about Beach Food Pantry before you visit. ♦

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