The HHC now has space at the Fist Baptist Church on King Street. Pictured: Dani Potts, Darrell Garner, Ben Loomis, Candace Kelling-Salzler, Billy Ralph Winkler, Dr. Melissa Gutschall, Kayla Lasure, Senior Pastor Roy Dobyns, Elizabeth Young and Kristel Rider

BOONE — This fall, two pillars of the Watauga community are joining forces.

First Baptist Church of Boone and Hunger and Health Coalition are partnering to expand the food assistance services available at the First Baptist Church on King Street, strengthening the local safety net and making food security more accessible for all residents.

After meeting and planning throughout the summer, the two organizations are excited to announce the start of this new partnership in September 2021. This partnership will mark the unveiling of the “Hunger and Health Coalition at First Baptist Church” hub of services located on the ground floor of the First Baptist Church, adjacent to App State’s campus.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hunger and Health Coalition has seen an increased number of individuals unable to leave their homes, according to the organization. Fear of the virus, quarantining and increased childcare duties have made it difficult for many clients to receive the food assistance they need.

These factors add to the transportation barriers low-income people in Watauga County face as 30 percent of individuals who qualify for food service do not have transportation to access the services they need, according to the organization. To respond, Hunger and Health Coalition created a new Mobile Food Assistance program, allowing any resident of Watauga County to request food box delivery directly to their door. Since last September, the Hunger and Health Coalition’s team of staff and volunteers have completed over 1,000 deliveries to nearly 70 households.

Now, at the Hunger and Health Coalition’s main site, space is the limiting factor. Partnership with First Baptist Church will give the Mobile Food Assistance program room to continue growing, ensuring that all Watauga County residents with low-income are able to receive food box deliveries as they need it, the organization stated.

This partnership will also mark the reopening of First Baptist Church’s Monday food pantry, resuming the weekly pre-pandemic service schedule. This pantry is open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each week, allowing individuals who work during the daytime access to food assistance on their way home. During the remainder of the week, the space will be used to coordinate the Mobile Food Assistance program, housing the Hunger and Health’s growing Nutrition Education Hub, and eventually even more programs to unite the community around food and health.

“Partnering in this way is a literal dream come true for our team,” said Hunger and Health Coalition Executive Director Elizabeth Young. “First Baptist Church is one of the area’s most prominent examples of a faith organization actively contributing to Watauga County’s social safety net. We are honored to work together in developing this partnership as a new source of support for our community.”

First Baptist Church approached Hunger and Health Coalition with the idea, extending the church’s long mission of providing needed food to the community, according to the organization.

“The desire and calling of the First Baptist Church of Boone to share God’s love on this corner made right now the perfect time to form a partnership with the Hunger and Health Coalition,” First Baptist Church Pastor Roy Dobyns said. “I am very excited to see the ground floor of our facility used to facilitate food security for our neighbors in ways beyond the Monday afternoon food distribution. I want to thank the many past and present volunteers and leadership from the COC including May Bouboulis, Larry Woodrow, Kristel Rider, and Darrell Garner, for their tireless efforts to care for the hungry. I am honored to work with Elizabeth Young and the Hunger and Health Coalition.”

For anyone interested in joining the volunteer team at the Hunger and Health Coalition to fuel the new expansion, they can email volunteeringhhc@gmail.com, visit hungerandhealthcoalition.com or call at (828) 262-1628 to get started.

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