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Hunger persists in N.C. despite jobs recovery

Posted November 27, 2014

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— Abraham Balleza, 10, and his 9-year-old brother, Daniel, look forward to Thanksgiving at the Durham Rescue Mission every year, piling their plates high with all the turkey, potatoes and green beans they can carry.

“We came here ever since my mom was pregnant with me,” Abraham said.

Their mom works, and so does their dad, who was out of town Thursday for work. Everyone in the family pitches in to help.

“When my dad’s at work, we have to do all of our chores,” Abraham said. “I have to cut the yard, take out the trash.”

But with five kids, it's still tough for the family to make ends meet. The boys say there’s sometimes not enough food to go around at dinnertime.

In North Carolina, one in five residents – or 1.8 million people - is food insecure. That's defined as not having enough nutritious food each day.

For children, the number is even worse. One in four kids in North Carolina goes to bed hungry from time to time. That's 609,000 kids like Abraham and Daniel.

Ernie Mills started the Durham Rescue Mission 40 years ago with his wife, Gail. They help a lot of families like the Ballezas.

“A lot of them have lost jobs – middle-class people I’m talking about. And then the jobs they have re-got after the Great Recession have been part-time jobs. Some of them making a third of what they were making beforehand," Mills said. "There are a lot of hurting families out there.”

The state's jobless rate has dropped over the past two years. But average wages have dropped, too. Mills says demand at the mission is up 37 percent this year, and although donations have risen slightly, they haven't kept up.

Still, Mills says many people have been generous with money and time. The Durham Rescue Mission fired up the grills around 7 p.m. Wednesday to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal. In addition to the 140 birds cooked throughout the night, more than 500 volunteers served a range of trimmings and distributed warm clothing and free groceries for needy families.

The mission was prepared to serve 1,000 meals Thursday.

“All of this is because of our donors and our friends and our volunteers,” he said, standing in the packed mission dining room. “We could do none of this without them. And I am so thankful, at Thanksgiving, I am so thankful to our volunteers and our donors.”

So are the Ballezas, who stopped to say grace before digging in. 

"Well, I'm just thankful," Abraham said. 

"Me, too," added Daniel. 

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