Volunteers unload crates of fruit donated by a Florida organization at the Hunger Coalition in December 1984. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
Since the birth of this compassionate organization, The Hunger and Health Coalition has grown from a closet into a county-owned facility, formerly the Watauga County Health Department. This move allowed for the expansion, renovation, and creation of a myriad of programs designed to assist our neighbors in need. The Hunger and Health Coalition continues to address the needs of vulnerable populations in our area, providing emergency assistance while striving for long-term solutions to the issues facing those we serve.
Information was compiled by Allison Costner and Kayla Lasure from various Mountain Times and Watauga Democrat articles, information archived by previous employees, as well as an interview done with Joan Chater conducted by Allison Costner.
During the holiday season of 1979, Joan Chater of Blowing Rock asked her sons, ‘what would make Christmas special?’ In response, her two sons said they wanted to have a birthday party for Jesus, so they brought children’s supplies to the Boone United Methodist Church. However, the church couldn’t use the toys, but they did have people coming in hungry. Joan took this idea and got a group of friends together to bring canned goods to the church. This had a snowball effect, as more and more people started bringing in food. As a result, they decided to settle down in a space of their own. Moving into a one room space off of Depot Street with one card table and a chair, Joan and her friends got started collecting food for the community.
The Hunger Coalition was officially incorporated in January 1982 as a nonprofit and formed its own Board of Directors with Cinda McGuinn as the Coalition Coordinator. The coalition also started getting food from Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston Salem, still currently our biggest supplier of food. A Feb. 8, 1982, article in the Watauga Democrat states that the Hunger Coalition helped to create an Emergency Needs Food Bank that operated out of the Legal Services of the Blue Ridge office building at 205 Grand Boulevard in downtown Boone. At that time, recipients were able to receive enough food for four days, three times in a six-month period, the article stated. The Emergency Needs Food Bank also was only able to provide non-perishable foods such as canned soups, canned vegetables, and evaporated milk. A July 1, 1982, article stated that at that time the Emergency Needs Food Bank had served 83 households since it had officially opened. Mary Leigh Denton, who was the head of the food bank at the time, was in touch with local agencies who were tasked with reviewing their own clients and providing a list of those who could be candidates for services from the Emergency Needs Food Bank. Referrals were then to be made to the food bank, with the hopes that the food bank would notify the families in two weeks' time if they qualified for food bank assistance. The July 1982 article also stated that the food bank received funding from Appalachian State University’s sociology department to purchase a refrigerator to be able to distribute perishable items such as cheese, milk, and eggs. Volunteers from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program was compiled a list of low-budget recipes to provide to clients of the food bank and local grocers had started donating goods that were mislabled, damaged, or near expiration to the food bank. Chater said she was always grateful for the items donated even when they didn’t ask for them. “Watauga county is very giving. I never asked for anything that I didn’t get,” Chater said. For the first time, the Hunger Coalition joined the nationwide movement — the CROP Hunger Walk — to fight hunger. CROP walks had started in Watauga County in 1973 as a way to raise money for the Church World Service to fight hunger around the world; the event asked community members to walk a 10-mile route and to raise money for hunger relief. In 1982, HHC hosted the event in concert with the Church World Service, raising $10,100 with $2,525 staying in Watauga County to help HHC in local hunger relief. The CROP walk continued locally for at least 21 years.
The Hunger Coalition distributed food to more than 2,300 people in 1984. The agency moved to a location at 110 Depot Street, Boone.
Volunteer Coordinator Rebekah Cornett and Coalition Coordinator Cinda McGuinn in April 1994. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
Approximately 189 people walked in the Sept. 25, 1982, CROP Walk to raise money for hunger relief. Photo courtesy of The Mountain Times.
After outgrowing the closet at the Depot Street building in 1989, the organization relocated to King Street. Despite the disruption, 1989 was a banner year for the Hunger Coalition. Alongside the creation of several programs, the agency began a free health clinic, staffed by physicians who volunteered with the Watauga Health Department. Hunger Coalition began a Thanksgiving Dinner tradition this year as well as its Sharing Tree program to help provide holiday presents to local families. Within the first year, the agency had 900 families sign up for the Sharing Tree. Each family would get two adopted families — one for food or grocery money and the other for household supplies and clothing.
Ceia Webb was announced as the Executive Director of the Hunger Coalition. By the mid-1990s, the Hunger and Health Coalition staff attempted to alleviate the difficulties experienced by clients who faced an arduous decision each month: using their limited resources on food or prescription medications. In February 1995, Joan Chater and Doug McCloughlin began a free pharmacy program at Hunger Co. Once the coalition passed all the regulations in order to run the pharmacy, the stationary pharmacy was up and running. It’s first location was on King Street where Vidalia Restaurant is currently and had two pharmacists and two pharmacy technicians. The pharmacy crew was very limited in the medicines they could provide, only having a few heart medicines and IV sets. In 1995, the Hunger Coalition provided food for 4,492 people and filled prescriptions for 698 patients, according to an article from the Mountain Times.
Pharmacy Manager Doug McLaughlin (left) works with Jim Greene, Pam Ayoub and Connie Mull (right), who were pharmacy volunteers. Photo courtesy of the Hunger Coalition's own publication of Food For Thought.
Ceia Webb is photographed in the pantry of the King Street location in October 1997. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
In 1998 the Hunger Coalition once again relocated, this time to a house at 417 Meadowview Drive. With the help of Martha Lyon, a new pharmacist to the Blowing Rock area, the Hunger Coalition began the mobile Pharmacy, deemed the “Country Roads Mobile Free Pharmacy.” The mobile pharmacy traveled to Avery, Ashe, Watauga, and Alleghany counties on various days of the week. On the first travel day, Lyons and Chater drove the RV to Sparta, not having solid directions on how to get there. Once they arrived at 10 a.m., there was a long line of clients ready to be assisted; they finally finished helping Alleghany residents at 9 p.m.. However, when they tried to head back to Boone, the RV wouldn’t start, so community members living nearby helped to jump the RV so they could drive back home, but not before sending Lyons and Chater back with a homecooked meal, Chater recalled.
The Hunger Coalition elicited the help of volunteers to move from its West King Street location to this house at 417 Meadowview Drive in May 1998. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
The agency used an RV as a mobile pharmacy starting in 1998. Photo from Hunger and Health archives.
In 1999, two crucial programs joined HHC: the Food Recovery Program and the Individual Drug Program. The Food Recovery Program, funded through the Kulynych Family Foundation at the time, partnered with local restaurants to provide clients with prepared and repackaged food organized into individual meals. The agency also started its Grow A Row program, inviting local gardeners to grow a few extra plants and donate the produce to HHC. The Individual Drug Program assisted clients in enrolling in patient assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. This enabled clients to access much-needed medications that were unavailable through the in-house free pharmacy service. This medication assistance program continues to operate today.
Diane Tait is appointed as the Executive Director of the Hunger Coalition in August 2000 — the third to serve in the position for the agency. Chater left as the Associate Director of the Hunger Coalition in December 1999 after holding a variety of positions at the agency over the years, according to an October 2000 Mountain Times article. In the article Chater states that she never served as director of the agency, but rather served where she was needed to “do the hands on work.” In her interview with Allison Costner, Chater said “It was never a somber place. We laughed a lot!”
In late 2002, the Health Wellness Trust Fund of North Carolina provided the Coalition with a three-year grant, allowing for the addition of two, full-time prescription assistants, one of which was located in Ashe County. Watauga High School hosted its first Empty Bowls event benefiting the Hunger Coalition — an event the agency and the high school still hosts annually.
Martha Lyon holds a box of Alegra while in the back of the Country Roads mobile pharmacy in January 2002. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
At its Dec. 5, 2005, meeting, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved the Hunger Coalition’s request to lease the county-owned “Hannah” building at 141 Health Center Drive, according to county records.
Compton Fortuna was appointed Executive Director of the agency.
David Farthing, Jesse Weaver and Compton Fortuna work in the Hunger Coalition pantry at its Meadowview Drive location in Boone in April 2004. Photo courtesy of the Watauga Democrat.
At its March 22, 2006, meeting, the agency’s board approved a name change and added the word “Health” to finally become the Hunger and Health Coalition. HHC hosted a community open house at its new location on Aug. 5, 2006.
The mobile pharmacy operation was suspended indefinitely at the Jan. 16, 2007, meeting of the HHC board due to identified staffing issues. The mobile unit was sold at a later time.
Elizabeth Young was named as the Executive Director of the agency.
The Hunger and Health Coalition teamed up with the Hospitality House, Quiet Givers, Henson’s Chapel and Valle Crucis Methodist Church to establish the Western Watauga Food Outreach group, according to an article from High Country Press. WWFO was created to be able to provide more readily available food to those in the western part of Watauga County out of the Western Watauga Community Center. The official grand opening for WWFO was Sept. 10, 2015; more than 90 meals were served at the event.
Board Member Jean Williamson, Executive Director Elizabeth Young and Customer Services Coordinator Kim Winebarger in August 2014. Photo courtesy Hunger and Health Co archives.
With the goal in mind of creating a Food is Medicine model for how food is distributed to clients and program are ran, HHC began partnering with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System in 2017 to screen hospital patients for food insecurity. The initial pilot program screened 400 people for food insecurity in the inpatient setting, and referred them to HHC for a tailored food box to address nutrition-related chronic disease. As of January 2022, 215 clients across 104 households had received medically tailored food assistance
The A Simple Gesture program was adopted to allow community members an easy way to donate to HHC. The agency elicited the help of volunteers to drive to local businesses, homes and churches to pick up donation bags every two months. The agency also hosted its first food insecurity forum with 26 families. The families enrolled to share their thoughts and life experiences each week over the course of a month. The goal was to be able to share a meal with community members and create a dialogue around food insecurity.
ASG Coordinator Jenn Bass, ARHS Employee Wellness Manager Leslie Roberts, ARHS System Director of Care Management Robin Fox, and HHC Volunteer Coordinator Seth Lejuene showcase A Simple Gesture bags in 2019. Photo from Hunger and Health archives.
The Hunger and Health Coalition began a drive-thru approach for clients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mobile Delivery Program is established to deliver produce and non-perishable food to clients’ homes. In November 2022, HHC surpassed 4,000 deliveries since starting in September 2020. The Hunger and Health Coalition began mailing prescriptions to clients in Avery County; roughly 30 clients receive mailed prescriptions as of 2023.
A volunteer helps to deliver food to a client. Photo courtesy HHC archives.
The agency took on the Backpack Program from Watauga County Schools. The Backpack Program in Watauga was started in 2010 by Second Harvest Food Bank as the 19th program Second Harvest had opened in Northwest North Carolina, according to a May 2010 Watauga Democrat article. The bags of food items for the backpack program are now given to HHC by Second Harvest, and HHC delivers them to students' homes. HHC started teaming with First Baptist Church to use part of the church’s basement for mobile delivery operations. This allows all HHC mobile delivery clients to be served out of First Baptist Church.
HHC Mobile Delivery Coordinator Candace Kelling-Salzler operates the mobile delivery program out of First Baptist Church. Photo from Hunger and Health Co archives.