by Kelsey Kusterer
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Friday marked the addition of fresh milk and bread to backpacks full of food packaged for local children by TABLE, a nonprofit located at 205 W. Weaver St. in Carrboro.
TABLE Director Joy MacVane welcomes the additional food because she says most backpack programs in North Carolina don’t offer fresh bread and milk. The bread was donated by Whole Foods Market, located at 81 S. Elliot Road in Chapel Hill, and the milk by Maple View Farm, located outside Chapel Hill.
“There are a lot of hungry kids in this country; it’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Roger Nutter, owner of Maple View Farm Milk. “There are a lot of problems, but getting people fed is first. TABLE was a way we saw to help this. We donated 30 pints this week for the 30 kids, but if the need increases we will donate more.”
MacVane launched TABLE in the fall of 2007 with husband Ed Calamai and 12 student volunteers from UNC-Chapel Hill. The nonprofit provides backpacks for 30 school children each weekend. Kids who need support with food are identified by their after-school program directors, who seek out the assistance of TABLE.
“I think just with the economy and the way it is, a lot of families are struggling financially, and every bit counts,” said Ivette Mercabo, coordinator of the Airport Gardens after-school program, located at 821 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill. “I know at one time at Christmas time we asked the parents what they really wanted. It was heartbreaking to hear that one parent—she just wanted food. … One of their greatest needs is just to feed their kids.”
The idea for the nonprofit developed from a baking project MacVane started with students from UNC-CH. She noticed that many students passed by her house on their way to class, and she began to leave baked goods outside her door for them. Grateful students returned the gesture with notes and flowers.
The neighborly connection that MacVane initiated gave her the idea to leave a sign asking students if they would like to bake cakes for the Inter-Faith Council Community House, located at 100 W. Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill.
Twelve students showed up to help bake, and they were greeted with cheers when they delivered sheet cakes to the men at the shelter. Afterward, MacVane had a discussion with the students about the project.
“They came to the consensus that they were interested in feeding local, hungry children. … I looked around, though, and there wasn’t anything that was quite like they were looking for,” MacVane said.
After this conception in 2007, TABLE launched an eight-week pilot program providing backpacks for children at the after-school program at El Centro Latino, located at 110 W. Main St. in Carrboro. In the summer of 2008, TABLE served 14 students at El Centro Latino’s summer program. The project increased to 30 children in the fall and hasn’t stopped since.
“I think that as people in the community recognize that we have hungry children in our midst—particularly in bad economic times—I think people really want to help and we offer them opportunities to do that,” MacVane said.
TABLE hosted a fundraiser on Feb. 10 at the Ben & Jerry’s on West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Danielle Heider, a first-year double majoring in linguistics and American studies, organized the fundraiser that raised over $100 for TABLE.
TABLE volunteers came by the organization’s headquarters Friday to finish packaging the first set of backpacks to include the donated bread and milk. The menu varies week by week, but regular items include canned meat, apples, canned vegetables, canned fruit, juice boxes, packets of breakfast foods, snacks, noodle items, milk and bread.
Cordon Folds, a fourth-year nutrition major and fresh food coordinator for TABLE, stayed busy sorting through food items and checking menu lists.
“There’s an opportunity right here in Carrboro that seems like a hands-on, direct way to work in the community,” Folds said.
TABLE will continue to encourage local children to incorporate fresh, nutritious food in their diets with a gardening program that will begin this spring. MacVane said she hopes students from the School of Public Health will help initiate the program to teach basic gardening techniques and nutritious recipes to children.