Food deserts and food insecurity are pain points not only here in North Carolina but across the nation. David Disher has a full-circle story of hope, as someone who once struggled with food insecurity himself, and now has the privilege of helping those who currently struggle with the same challenges. 

David Disher has been with Urban Ministries for a decade, first as a volunteer, and now as the Director of the Hunger and Nutrition Program. 

Disher’s role as director is to maintain and establish relationships outside of the program with businesses, civic organizations, and churches. He ensures that they solidify donations, whether physical products or monetary donations. 

David Disher, Director of Hunger and Nutrition Program at Urban Ministries of Wake County.

“I’m also here to manage numbers and try to make sure that we’re in alignment with making sure we have enough adequate product daily to serve the neighbors that we do serve every day, which I’m very honored and proud to do with my team to get that done,” Disher told the Carolina Journal in an interview. 

Disher shared his own story of food insecurity and how that experience informs his work, helping those who currently struggle to afford food. There was a time when Disher was unemployed and had to rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which he said helped him immensely at the time. Disher noted that at the time, he didn’t know anything about food pantries, but that awareness would have helped him immensely. There weren’t many grocery stores where he lived, and or convenience stores popping up everywhere. It was challenging for him to manage things until he could acquire a job and get back on his feet.

Disher explained that his experience of struggling to afford food is a driver for him because he has “been there, done that.” It helps him to remember where he has come from and where he is going. 

“For me to have the blessed opportunity to serve people is golden,” said Disher. “Just seeing the looks on these people’s faces and the gratitude is heartwarming, and you can’t put a dollar figure on that, per se, although we do need the dollars to support. But it’s just so much of a blessing to be able to help those that are in need because, as I said, I’ve been there, done that, and so if I can turn that back around into a blessing and help, and that’s where I’m at.”

Disher’s personal story of food insecurity impacts his current role by allowing him to empathize with those who struggle with the same challenges. His experiences help him assure those he is serving that someone understands what they are going through. The bottom line is taking care of these people. The personal part is that it drives him to help people, see them again, and let them know they are truly understood. 

Not only does Urban Ministries put together the best boxes that they possibly can with the products they have available, but if they ever are reduced to giving out boxes they aren’t proud of, they stop the line and redirect people to another service that can help them, such as Catholic Parish. Disher also has a six-page directory of options for assistance he hands out to people, especially if they don’t live in the area. 

Disher said that he sees food deserts developing in Johnston County, the outer edges of Wake County, into the parameter. He considers food deserts outside of a metro area. Transportation is a common denominator contributing to food insecurity; therefore, food deserts develop in more rural areas where it’s harder to get from point A to point B. 

Food pantries help a lot with these struggles, but a long-term solution is needed. With rising costs for housing and groceries alike, Disher says many must decide between feeding their families and paying rent or utility bills.  

“It’s hard for people because it’s not a new story,” said Disher.

Those taking up service, like Disher, fill a gap left by policies that restrict market forces and pressure prices skyward. Each increase in costs embedded in agricultural endeavors, be it environmental regulations or supply disruptions, adds to the numbers seeking help from food pantries.

But it’s not always easy to ask for help. Disher spoke to the shame and stigma surrounding food insecurity and how we can address that issue. When it came to his own experience, even he himself didn’t want to ask for SNAP benefits. Instead, he told CJ, he wanted to go out and get a job to support himself.

“We are not here to judge people,” said Disher. “We serve people equally, treat them the same, give them the same food, and try to help them out, no matter who they are, and for whatever reason. So I guess trying to put people at ease, rest assured that, ‘hey, we’re here to help you. There is no judgment here.’”

When someone comes to Disher or Urban Ministries for help, they ask questions about what their client needs, listen attentively, and then find a solution. If they can’t satisfy their needs, they direct them to somewhere that can help them. 

“I’m in this business because I care,” said Disher, adding he reassures his clients that he is there to help and care for them. “There are no other hidden agendas.”