The N.C. Guardian ad Litem programs will kick off an inaugural “Peanut Butter & Jelly Campaign” next week in an attempt to fight food insecurity in the state.
Plenty of drop off points will be available locally from Jan. 2 to Jan. 20, said Kate Appler, who directs the program in the judicial district serving Stokes and Surry counties.
Those locations include the public libraries in Mount Airy, Dobson, Pilot Mountain, King and Danbury, and the law office of James Freeman in Elkin.
“Children love peanut butter and jelly,” said Appler, explaining why the statewide drive is limited to those popular sandwich ingredients.
“Peanut butter is a complete protein,” and except in the cases of food allergies, “it’s very healthy for children,” she said, adding that the versatile spread can be hard to come by in food banks.
The addition of jelly just makes it fun, she said.
“It’s a great combination,” Appler noted. “It can make a kid smile and at the same time be healthy.”
The administrator said all products collected locally with be distributed to local food banks on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday in January.
“What people give in Dobson,” for example, she said, “stays in Dobson.”
The drive is the first project of this kind the N.C. Guardian ad Litem programs have undertaken, according to information provided by the agency, and is the brainchild of a regional administrator whose coverage includes the local district.
“She wanted to do something directly related to children from the standpoint of being able to give to them something that they needed and to understand how we can help them directly in a different way, rather than advocacy,” Appler explained.
According to a 2014 study completed by Feeding America, 50 percent of those served by the Food Bank are children and seniors and more than 650,000 people struggle to access nutritious and adequate amounts of food.
Locally, Appler pointed to the percentage of children on free or reduced lunch program in Mount Airy – 65 percent – as an indicator.
“People may or may not realize the needs we have,” she said.
The campaign also provides an opportunity to get the word out about Guardian ad Litem program itself.
“We’re really a well kept secret,” Appler said.
Children who are alleged by Department of Social Services to have been the victim of abuse or neglect are given “full party status,” in court proceedings, according to information provided by the N.C. Guardian ad Litem program.
Along with an attorney, judges appoint a volunteer advocate who ensures the child has a voice in court.
The advocate conducts independent investigations to determine the facts, needs of the child and the resources appropriate to meet those needs.
Volunteers also work with the children to figure out their wishes and preferences, reporting those to the court as well.
There are far more children than volunteers both statewide and locally.
In 2015-2016, 54 court-appointed volunteers in Judicial District 17B (Stokes and Surry counties) served 264 children and held 1127 number of hearings.
“We’re always working to get more volunteers,” Appler said, noting that recently, the number of children needing a Guardian ad Litem has surged.
Three months ago, the caseload in Surry County averaged about 60 children. Most recent numbers indicate a caseload of about 84 children, with another 105 in Stokes County.
“Which actually is huge in this area. That’s about a 30 percent increase in three months,” she said. “We are struggling.”
Those interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can apply or find more information at www.volunteerforgal.org.
Those interested in donating plastic (preferred) jars of peanut butter and jelly can drop off items at the following locations Jan. 2 through Jan. 20:
• Mount Airy Public Library – 143 Rockford St., Mount Airy
• Dobson Community Library – 113 S. Crutchfield St., Dobson
• Charles H. Stone Memorial Library – 319 W. Main St., Pilot Mountain
• James N. Freeman law office – 117 Church St., Elkin
• King Public Library, 101 Pilot View Drive, King
• Danbury Public Library – 1104 Main St., Danbury
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.