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Editorial-Food Insecurity in Emporia

food in·se·cu·ri·ty

noun

noun: food insecurity

  1. the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

"more than 800 million people live every day with hunger or food insecurity as their constant companion"

In the article from the Capital News Service that appears below, there is an infographic with the percentage of “food insecure people” in each locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I have added a caption to this graphic that notes the percentage of the residents of the City of Emporia who are “food insecure.”

24.4 percent (1,341 people) of our neighbors are considered to be “food insecure,” meaning that they have no reliable access to nutritious foods, including fresh produce. 16.8 percent (2,832 people) of the citizens of Greensville County are also considered “food insecure.”

What is being done to reduce that number?

It is unclear if Congress will be able to help, but the bill sponsored by our own Representative, Donald McEachin, failed to classify Emporia as a “food desert,” even with the enhancements to that definition. According to the bill in question, any locality with 20% or more of the citizens living in poverty, or where the median household income is 80% or less than the statewide median household income is a “food desert.”

Here in Emporia, 30.9% of the population lives in poverty. That percentage equates to 1,968 people. Nearly 2000 people live below the federal poverty level.  Our median household income of $27,426 is 39.89% of the statewide median household income of $68,756. In Greensville County 17% of the population lives below the poverty level and the median household income of $42,121 is less than 80% of the statewide median income. (Sources https://datausa.io/profile/geo/emporia-va/#economy, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/greensville-county-va)

Given both of those numbers the City of Emporia and Greensville County should be considered “food deserts” under the definition of the Healthy Food Access for all Americans Act (HFAAA).

There was a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that provided $5 million to help attract, build or renovate stores in localities that are underserved. That bill died in the Appropriations Committee of the House of Delegates.

On a local level, it is up to non-government-organizations to fill the gap. The most visible of those in the City is the Samaritan Helping Hands Home on North Main Street where lunch is provided on weekdays. During the summer, Greensville County Public Schools participates in the USDA sponsored summer lunch program. Feedmore, the foodbank for Central Virginia serves three agencies, only one of which is actually in the City.

As an offshoot of the summer feeding program, Main Street United Methodist Church offers a free Community Meal on the fourth Sunday of each month at 5:30 pm. This meal is, in addition an opportunity to help feed neighbors in need, for anyone who shows up. Food is prepared for 50 people, and all are welcome. For full disclosure, I have a leadership role in the Community Meal Ministry at MSUMC. If anyone is interested in starting a similar ministry at their own church on a different Sunday, I will gladly help.

In Greensville County, where 16.8% of the citizens are “food insecure,” there are two locations served by Feedmore: Elnora Jarrell Worship Center and Garden of Prayer, but only El Shaddai Ministry (the former St. James Episcopal Church) is in the City of Emporia.

At Elnora Jarrell Worship Center food is distributed from 3:30 to 4 pm every Tuesday and Thursday and from 9 to 11 am on the second Saturdays.

At Garden of Prayer food is distributed on the first Monday, but no time is given by the Feedmore website.

Here in the City El Shaddai Ministry distributes food from 9 to 11 am on the second and third Saturdays.

For the combined City and County, food is distributed for 10 and one half hours each month. Logistically, 10 ½ hours is not nearly enough time to distribute food for 4,173 people. I have personally approached Feedmore about adding another location. Had they been amenable, I would have presented that to the Church Council, with the hope of adding our parking lot to the list of locations for the Mobile Food Pantry. Feedmore shut me down in quick order, but I am armed with statistics, and will try again.

Here are the days and times for agencies served by Feedmore, copied and pasted directly from their website:

El Shaddai Ministry
609 Halifax Street , Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-594-2680
Thursday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 2nd & 3rd

Elnora Jarrell Worship Center
490 Liberty Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-336-9990
Tuesday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Thursday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Saturday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 3RD

Garden of Prayer
386 Slagles Lake Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-632-1252
Monday, 1st

It is budget season for both the City and County, yet neither budget has any assistance for feeding the hungry.

The proposed city budget includes a 4% increase for water and a 4% increase for sewer, plus a $2 increase for sanitation. That is a $3.63 increase on the minimum-usage monthly water bill (the minimum billing for water/sewer/sanitation was about $30 15 years ago and will now be nearly $100). That $3.63 is got to come from somewhere in the family budget, and given that many people in poverty are already forced to decide between paying the bills and buying food (and medicine) for their families, I would wager that the money will come from the already meager grocery budget.

The lack of nutritional food increases health issues, so it is no wonder that our community is also one of the least healthy of all localities in the Commonwealth, ranking 128 out of 133 in Health Outcomes (http://www.emporianews.com/content/report-shows-geographic-disparities-health-virginia).

Long term, education is the key to getting our community out of this situation. With a well educated populace, we will be better able to attract business and industry. Even if we were to improve our schools, we would likely not see results for a generation, especially given the number of years that the system has been under-funded.

Greensville County has a major Industrial Park in the works, but still refuses to do more that level-fund the Greensville County Public Schools. In fact, the proposed budgets for both the City and the County only level-fund our schools, as opposed to full funding – leaving the schools with more than one-million dollars less than they asked for. What major industry wants to locate in a place where they cannot hire an educated work-force?

Our library has cut hours in the time I have lived here. If our local governments were forward-thinking, the library would also receive increased funding, especially given the lack of broadband internet access in the more rural areas of the county and the economic hardships faced by the poor economy in the area (those living in poverty cannot afford the steep price of high-speed internet from Comcast), and the computers at the library are the only source of high-speed internet access for many.

Greensville County is spending millions of dollars to move Social Services to the County (most of the shared services have been moved out of the city), that money could be better spent elsewhere. In the city, they are apparently still considering spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to tear down the auditorium, which is (once again) money that could be better spent elsewhere. The City’s share of the debt service on the new Social Services building in the County is already more than $100,000, and the building is only in the initial phases of construction. Citizens are also on the hook for the debt service for the addition to the Greensville County Sherriff’s Department of which the City’s share is nearly $40K.

An increase in water service - for water that is not even palatable and leaves black mold-like deposits in pipes and toilets - is only going to continue to hurt the poorest among us. It is high time that both the City and County find new streams of revenue.

In the City, our prepared meals tax is already at the maximum, and revenue from our transient tax is projected to fall now that all of the power plants are finished. City Council is no longer considering a Cigarette Tax. A cigarette tax was proposed in previous budgets and people were very upset. The outcry was enough that the idea was scrapped. It is unclear if it was considered again, but the idea is not in the proposed budget. Nor were any other new sources of revenue.

Unless our City Council and Board of Supervisors drastically change their priorities, large numbers of our friends and neighbors are destined to be poor, hungry, sick and under-educated.

Editorial-Tearing Down Our History and Our Community

In the early part of the last century, when institutional racism was rampant, education was a rare commodity for the Black Community in the United States.  Slavery was over, but another form of brutal economic enslavement was still hanging on.  Sharecropping became the new way to keep Blacks and poor Whites “in their place.”  The White community had good public schools, but Black students were not allowed to attend classes in those grand Victorian palaces of education.

In the Black Community there were private venues for education, many were Church supported.  Educating Black Americans was no longer illegal, as it was in the days of slavery, but it was rare to see a school for Black students in rural Virginia.  There was a school in Brunswick County that educated black students in the late 19th century, but it was funded, mainly, by subscriptions from Northern Backers.

One man became the driving force for education in the Black Community, after seeing the major disparities in the segregated system of the South.  Julius Rosenwald, a Jew and President of the Sears Roebuck Company spent a substantial part of his fortune to build schools specifically for the Black Community.  Rosenwald was a second generation American whose parents fled Germany in 1854 because of the anti-Jewish sentiment; Rosenwald understood the effects of discrimination.

Rosenwald was convinced of the need of quality education for Blacks in the South by a Virginian: Booker T. Washington.  Washington was born a Slave, but at the age of 25 became the first principal of the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers in Alabama.  He built his school into the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, by far the best known, largest and most successful Black College in the country.

Both Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington understood the value of education and the importance of community.

Rosenwald Schools depended on funding from the local government and donations from the local Black Communities where they were built, in addition to the funds from Rosenwald.  Many of these schools became centers of the communities that they served.

In Greensville County alone, there were 13 Rosenwald Schools.  The Orion, Claresville and Barley Schools were One-teacher Types; Independence, Diamond Grove, Mars Hill, Antioch, Powell, Rylands, Radium and Dahlia Schools were Two-teacher Types;  Jarratts School was a Three-teacher type.  Of the 13 schools in the county only the South Emporia Training School – later known as the Greensville County Training School – was a Six-teacher type, and the only one constructed of brick.  Only 16 of the Six-teacher Schools were built in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Schools built with Rosenwald Fund monies were designated by the number of teachers or classrooms, and the plans were developed over several years.  Rosenwald Schools have several defining characteristics: high windows for ventilation and light, quality blackboards, coat-rooms, patent desks for the students.  The plans were published in books titled Community School Plans, which specified every detail, including color schemes.  This uniformity is what makes Rosenwald Schools so recognizable today.

Many communities have preserved their Rosenwald Schools and made them, once again, centers of the community.  Just south of us, in Halifax, NC, there is a preserved Rosenwald School, the last remaining Rosenwald School in Brunswick County, the Saint Paul’s School has been preserved and just recently received a roadside historic marker.  In Farmville, Virginia, the R. R. Moton High School, also a Six-teacher Type has been preserved and is now a museum.

Here, in Emporia, though, we apparently have no need for historic preservation.  Just last month Citizens voiced their opinions to save the Auditorium on Main Street after City Council decided to demolish the building.  Now that the voice of the people has saved that structure, City Council has the Greensville County Training School in the crosshairs.

When the School Board consolidated schools, the old Training School was surplus and became a dumping ground for old furniture and equipment.  The new addition became the School Board office and was maintained while the historic building next door was allowed to deteriorate and crumble.

Alumni of the school stepped in and started a grass-roots effort to save the building that was, at one time, the center of a thriving African-American Community.  While some still see the building as a symbol of the dark days of segregation, many of the alumni have fond memories of the school.  The Auditorium was the site of school and community events.

The School Board deeded the building to the group in the early part of the 21st Century, and Citizens United to Preserve the Greensville County Training School  has been working hard to save the building since then.  Citizens United to Preserve the Greensville County Training School is a 501(c)3 Not For Profit organization.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of the Citizens United Board of Directors.

Saving this building has not been easy.  The building had been neglected for so long that it was collapsing from the inside, prompting the City to require that the preservation group “selectively demolish” huge sections of the structure and fence it off in the name of safety and the group complied, leaving the structure in the state it is in today.  Even with the “selective demolition,” though, the group has not been deterred.

Through donations and with limited funding from the City, plans were developed for the restoration of the building to its original state.  The plans included a museum and space for an education center long before the building of the Southside Virginia Education Center in the County.  In addition the building has been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Register of Historic Places because of its historic importance to our community.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has declared Rosenwald Schools “National Treasures.”

An Architectural Rendering of the Restored Greensville County Training School.

The City of Emporia seemed supportive of the project, just as they did with the Civic Center project.  Things have apparently changed now.  After a closed door meeting of City Council on August 18, Council voted to force the group to tear what remains of the building down, and has earmarked $80,000 to pay for it themselves if the group does not comply.

Unlike the Civic Center Foundation, Citizens United has not been given an opportunity to share their concerns with the City.  The decision to demolish was made in private, with notice provided to Citizens United afterwards.  The closed session notice on the agenda was the only notice given that there were any discussions about the fate of the Training School building.  Said closed session was entered under the vague guise of “legal advice.”

The vote to demolish was unanimous, with Council Member Dale Temple absent, on a motion made by F. Woodrow Harris and seconded by Jay Ewing.  It would seem that Council Member Harris (who also made the motion to demolish the Auditorium) does not see the need for historic preservation.  One may also assume that the three African-American members of City Council no longer remember the importance of Community.  One should also wonder why is it that Frances Woodrow “Woody” Harris, Council Member for District Four, seems so hell-bent on destroying every historic building in town?

Our Community is dying.  Children are no longer born here, unless the delivery occurs in the Emergency Room.  There is no major prospect for sustaining Economic Development.  There is no desire to preserve the history of our Community.

In order to help economic development we need to invest in our Community.  Saving structures like the Auditorium and the Training School is an investment that will help draw business and industry to Emporia.  Too little importance is placed on enhancing our Quality of Life.  Too little importance is placed on Quality Education for the students in our public school system, as evidenced by the budget impasse we nearly faced in June.  For businesses to relocate here we need a strong Public School System and choices for arts and culture. 

Saving the Auditorium was the first step; we need to keep fighting to save our history and our community.  We cannot allow City Council to demolish one of the few remaining historic structures.  If We the People allow this building to be torn down, which one will be next?  Will Council set its sights on Village View and tear it down because it is in need of a coat of paint?

Of the five sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the City, only one, the Greensville County Training School, is a site related to African-American History.  In light of the recent tax increases does the City really need to spend $80,000 to force this issue now?  What would be the harm in giving Citizens United the same opportunity that was afforded the Civic Center Foundation?

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