Food deserts and food insecurity are pain points in North Carolina, and inflation is only making things worse for many. Lynn Staggs is one North Carolinian sowing resilience by meeting the challenge in her own community.

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Staggs, founded ‘The Storehouse,” a food pantry in Hendersonville, 24 years ago. 

Lynn Staggs, founder of The Storehouse.

“It got started because I got mad,” Staggs told the Carolina Journal. “I got sick and tired of seeing little ladies struggle for food.”

She met her first client through an ad she had placed in the newspaper looking to trade flowers. 

“I met my first client through that ad; a little old lady who was like in her 80s then,” said Staggs. “She could run circles around me, and she was struggling for food. She had this little four-shelf pantry in her kitchen, and hardly anything was on it. I would take her food and things out of my kitchen.” 

At the time, Staggs was working at another non-profit, but it was forced to close. However, the director of that non-profit assisted Lynn in starting up the Storehouse. 

“We ran with it,” said Staggs. She has raised money to cover the shared maintenance fee, with Manna Food Bank In Asheville. “We had five little ladies that we started with that first year, and that’s how it started,” said Staggs.

The ways Staggs describes it, in Henderson County, there’s no middle class. 

“So, there’s a huge gap. There’s no middle, and so that’s what’s happened here because it is a very desirable place to be, but the seniors who were here, plus the people who work like at the grocery store and the restaurants and things like that, they’ve pushed all these people further and further out into the county,” said Staggs.

Transportation is often a challenge in Henderson County, which, according to Staggs, adds another barrier to overcome for those dealing with poverty.

“That creates a whole different dynamic for someone who’s trying to go to work or get their child to daycare or just an elderly person trying to get to the grocery store and not have to pay for a taxi or even a laundromat,” she said.

Staggs also noted that lower income folks can only afford to live among the outskirts of Henderson County, and the lack of transportation, where food deserts have developed, making the lack of transportation more of a problem.  

“Yes, we have lots of grocery stores here,” she said. “But if you’re living 12 miles out from the city limits, just getting to a store is an issue. There are no sidewalks down there. So it’s nothing that they can walk. Even if there were sidewalks, many of them aren’t physically able to do that, since they’re dependent on pop-up pantries. We have 65 seniors on our delivery routes that go out every month.”

Much like many other communities in North Carolina, affordable housing is hard to come by.

“There’s nothing in town affordable,” Staggs said. “If they lived closer in and could get around easier, that would be an answer. But everything in town is insanely high. Housing and transportation fight for first and second place, back and forth.” 

Seniors and moms with young kids, primarily single moms, suffer some of the highest rates of food insecurity. Due to their low-income status, these groups are being pushed to the county’s outskirts where land and rent is considerably cheaper.

Big swings in government assistance since the COVID-19 pandemic have also complicated matters, creating more dependency for those relying on it, only to see even higher prices when the program ends.

“They were getting $116 to $132 a month,” Staggs said about COVID-era food stamp increases. “Well, at the end of last year, they repealed that $100 [in extra COVID funding]. So, now they’re back to $16 to $32 a month on food stamps, and food has gone up exponentially.”

While Staggs works to help those in need, she describes ways she believes policymakers can help address the growing problem of food insecurity. Simple strategies for combatting food insecurity start at the community level, she says, like starting gardens and sharing extra or imperfect harvests with those in need.

“[…] if you have too much, take it to your local food pantry, find yourself a little old lady — just give it to someone who can use it,” Staggs implored. “Find you a mom with a bunch of kids. There are so many things you can do if you have too many cucumbers, too many tomatoes, or just simple common sense. We had a garden growing up and we shared with our neighbors, just being kind to those around us.”