Yashuri Del Rosario Rodriguez

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A report conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found approximately 1 out of 9 Americans (or 11.1 percent) were food insecure in 2018 and according to experts it’s a “huge problem” in Rock Hill and York County.

One group working to combat the problem is Pilgrim’s Inn, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984, which also strives to help and empower the homeless, families in need and those struggling with food and financial insecurity.

According to Juanita Lester, the executive director of Pilgrim’s Inn, food insecurity can be defined in multiple ways depending on an individual’s situation.

“In some cases, food insecurity may be defined as not having access to food. In others, it’s not having access to healthy or adequate food. Or it could be not being able to determine what types of food are best for you because of health issues or other types of issues that mandate you eat a certain type of diet,” said Lester.

Statistics collected by Pilgrim’s Inn show the group’s food pantry provided food to 3,702 people in 2019. officials said the elderly and disabled are often the most impacted by food insecurity.

“Here at Pilgrim’s Inn, we service at least 30 families a day, and that’s not the same family every day. It’s about 30 families a day (and) approximately 1,000 to 1,200 individuals in a month,” said Jennifer Gullatt, the group’s community services coordinator who manages the food pantry.

Lester said the closing of Earth Fare will impact the community, as the food chain often donated organic turkeys during the Thanksgiving season and supplied Pilgrim’s Inn with monetary cards for families in need.

“Earth Fare was one of the satellites in this (food) desert,” said Lester.

Jennifer Gullatt & Juanita Lester
Pilgrim’s Inn employees Jennifer Gullatt (left), the community service coordinator, and Juanita Lester (right), the executive director, were guests on the Palmetto Report podcast to discuss food insecurity (photo: Yashuri Del Rosario Rodriguez).

College students are also impacted food insecurity. A study conducted by the Hope Center found an estimated 41 percent of students at four-year institutions have experienced food insecurity.

Similar estimates have been made about how the problem is affecting students at Winthrop University.

While students with meal plans are able to access food through dining services, which is operated by Sodexo at Winthrop, some students without a meal plan can struggle.

According to Lester, not everyone reaches out for help due to a stigma surrounding being food insecure.

“I think it depends on what pocket of the community you’re in. If you’re in a low-income area, it is not stigmatized. But (it becomes stigmatized) if you transition out of that into an upper mobility state,” said Lester.

Bryan Harriss, the general manager of dining services at Winthrop University, communicates with the university to help produce potential solutions to on campus food insecurity.

“Sodexo is talking about programs to help support food insecurity. As an example, donating meals to students that might be identified as food insecure. Those are programs that we have and will continue to discuss with the university in terms of potentially having that program here at Winthrop,” said Harriss.

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