Eastern North Carolina has been battered by hurricanes over the past few years. Out of the devastation, many groups have reflected on service delivery methods and implemented changes to improve response activities for future storms. One example of this happening are steps that the Catholic Charities Cape Fear Office and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina – Wilmington Branch have taken to get food to survivors more quickly following a storm.

Hurricane Florence brought multiple days of heavy rain to the state. Some rivers did not reach their peak flood level until days after the storm, and it took even longer for the flooding to subside. Many roads, including Interstate 40 and Route 421, were washed out in sections and it took weeks to make repairs. These travel barriers delayed transporting supplies from the Food Bank warehouse to partner agencies, and ultimately into the hands of survivors.

As a regular practice, the Food Bank conducts after action reports following each disaster activation, large or small, to discuss strengths and weaknesses of the response effort. Following Hurricane Florence, the topic of pre-positioning supplies was discussed and identified as a positive way to improve service delivery.

In order to accomplish pre-positioning supplies throughout the community, the Food Bank turned to local Long-Term Recovery Groups.

“Getting everyone to buy into the idea became much easier when you have a group of people that are sitting around a table on a regular basis with the best interest of the people who are going to suffer the most in the case that we experience another hurricane or other type of disaster,” shared Beth Gaglione, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina Wilmington Branch Director. “I have to give credit to the people who sit around those tables, and lead those discussions.”

In addition to working with the individual long-term recovery groups, there was one organization that was present across all these meetings, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area. After listening to discussions between the Food Bank and other service providers in the area, Tommy Taylor, CEO at the United Way, met with staff from the Food Bank to discuss available resources to make pre-positioning supplies a reality.

With the support of the United Way, the Food Bank began identifying partners where pre-positioned supplies could be stored. In total, nine agencies were selected including Catholic Charities. These organizations were selected based on their geography, looking to spread services out to limit service gaps and prevent overlap, their capacity to serve the community, and the services they normally offer. Additionally, due to the nature of this work, each agency is also required to have a disaster plan to ensure services remain operational during challenging times.

The Catholic Charities Cape Fear office checked all the boxes. The Catholic Charities Cape Fear office has been a partner of the Food Bank since 2017, after being invited to apply by a Food Bank employee. This invitation came when employees from both organizations sat next to each other at a community meeting and discussed the work of their respective groups. This unplanned meeting then blossomed into a robust partnership that includes the distribution of food, participation in the Food Bank’s Healthy Pantry Program, and now inclusion as a Disaster Partner.

“Partnering with the food bank has allowed us to access a variety of food resources, nutrition education, and general health information to better serve our clients for the last several years. This support has continued during times of disaster as well, which has been even more crucial.” shared Ms. Emilie Hart, Catholic Charities Cape Fear Regional Director. “I truly appreciate the Food Bank and the United Way for prioritizing disaster preparedness so that together, we can build our community’s resiliency. Placing food in the hands of disaster survivors after an event is the first step in a long recovery process, and an important one . I think it symbolizes hope as it’s a sign of moving forward.”

As an identified disaster partner, the Catholic Charities Cape Fear Office will receive three pallets of shelf stable pre-packaged food boxes at the beginning of each hurricane season. This initial allotment would be enough food to assist approximately 150 families. Pre-positioning these food boxes will allow Catholic Charities staff to either distribute food to families immediately prior to an anticipated large impact, or just after a disaster occurs.

“The time right after a disaster can be chaotic,” shared Hart. “It helps everyone involved if we can provide families supplies to sustain them for a few days after impact, rather than needing to come out right away. Families will have time to focus on other needs and we as an agency will have a little more time to get ourselves organized and better serve the community.”

Additionally, pre-positioning supplies will help reduce the impact of transportation barriers in the future. Food will begin flowing into the community even if roadways wash out and need to be repaired.

If the area is spared in a hurricane season from experiencing a major impact, the pre-positioned food will be distributed through normal food pantry operations so there is no waste. Prior to the following hurricane season, replacement food boxes will again be pre-positioned at the Catholic Charities Cape Fear Office. So far funding has been secured through 2021, but if successful, the Food Bank will look to make this a permanent program.