Capstone Project

Issues of Food Insecurity and Poverty Strike Robeson County

Just taking a ride through Robeson County’s 15 cities: Red Springs, Pembroke, Fairmont, St. Pauls, Maxton, Rowland, Parkton, Orrum, Lumber Bridge, Rennert, Proctorville, Marietta, Rayham, McDonald and Lumberton shows how poverty has engulfed Robeson County. Robeson County is one of the poorest counties in the United States. In an American Community Survey from 2012, 34.50 percent of Robeson County was discovered to be below poverty.

An abandoned building in one of the most poverty stricken areas of Parkton, NC in Robeson County.

There are places in the county, that provide help for those who are hungry or in need of shelter. In 2013, the News & Observer published an article about poverty in North Carolina. It was discovered that over a half-million households, in 2012, participated in the food stamp program. In Robeson County, that included 33 percent of families, the third-highest figure in the nation in counties over 65.

Homeless teen boy in Pembroke, NC sleeping next to a vacant building.
Homeless teen boy in Pembroke, NC sleeping next to a vacant building.

The county has the third-highest poverty level in the country for a county its size. Among the issues in the poverty stricken county, lies the issues of hunger and food insecurity. To clarify, food insecurity refers to the lack of adequate, nutritious, and safe foods, typically due to financial resource constraints. In the United States, food insecurity is usually measured through responses to the Household Food Security Survey Module, a tool developed by the U.S. Food Security Measurement Project to identify whether a household is food secure, has low food security, or has very low food security. (Sonik, Parish, Ghosh, and Igdalsjy, 2016)

In 2013, 23 percent of Robeson County’s population was food insecure. That is 30,500 people. In the midst of those who are hungry and food insecure, there are children. USDA Economic Research Services showed that 50 million individuals in the United States are food insecure. Seven million of these individuals are children. 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent, Shea DeJarnette said that statewide, the estimate of youth that have food insecurities is one in four. A recent USDA study showed that North Carolina’s hunger numbers are increasing. However, even with the increase over the last few years the USDA is reporting food insecurities statewide at just over 15% which equates more to one in six.

“Kids often do not say “I’m hungry, I don’t get enough to eat.” However, when you sit down they eat everything in sight and want more, often you question if it is a growing child or a hungry child”, DeJarnette said. She works at the Robeson County Cooperative Extension (RCCE). RCCE Is affiliated with North Carolina State University and A&T. “I can tell you that Robeson County 4-H works with communities in schools to offer food for their backpack pals program,” DeJarnette said. The backpack pals program gives students in specific elementary schools backpacks of food on Friday so they will have three meals a day over the weekend.

Red Springs, NC: Jayda was crying because she ate the last of her grapes. Food is often times scarce in her home. Photo taken by Jasmin Jenkins.

The Church and Community Center in Red Springs helps those who are in need of food. They provide quarterly food boxes and Second Harvest daily.

Reverend Kim Works to Help the Homeless 

While it is a major problem in Robeson County, the issue of poverty is widespread. There is a significant amount of homeless people in the United States. Just 45 minutes away from Robeson County, is Cumberland County, where the town of Fayetteville is located. Downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina is also a poverty stricken area. New Life Mission founder Reverend Grace Kim, is taking action in her community the best way she can, by helping those who are in need. Reverend Kim is a religious leader and advocate for the homeless.


Reverend Kim felt that God led her to the area that she is in for a reason. Living in one of the poorest areas, Reverend Kim maintains a homeless shelter for men and women of all ages.  New Life Mission is a non profit organization that caters to those who are in need of food and shelter. Reverend Kim believes that poverty is a serious issue in Cumberland and surrounding counties, especially Robeson, which is one of the poorest counties in the United States.

“Some people think of poverty and homelessness as a day job, but it doesn’t go away at night,” Reverend Kim said.

Reverend Kim’s homeless shelter is in an area that has been poverty stricken for many years. She says that the seriousness of poverty is at an all time high. Over the last few years, there have been several robberies at New Life Mission.

“They took the air conditioning units, lawn mowers, so much. That’s why it is hot in the shelter during the summer. We stay warm in the winter because we have a wood burner”, Reverend Kim said. During my interview with Reverend Kim, we both sat with sweat running down our faces and the sun beaming in from the front door. The air was thick and the smell was unforgettable.

Reverend Kim is an expert in the area of homelessness and veteran care. Five years ago, a man by the name of John Kiel came to New Life Mission covered in blood. He had been severely wounded.

“The wound was so bad that I could smell it”, Reverend Kim said.

After a few moments of trying to get an understanding of who the man was. Reverend Kim discovered that he was a veteran and needed medical attention immediately. She took him to the veteran’s hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina where he was denied care. Reverend Kim took the situation into her own hands. She nursed John back to health, and now five years later, he is living at the homeless shelter.

“A lot of veterans are homeless. It’s sad to say, but it is true. I wish I could help them all, but I only have space here for very few. I need help,” Reverend Kim said.

With poverty comes many things; hunger, homelessness, jobless, food insecurity, and more.  Due to the prominent issue of poverty and hunger in Robeson County, there are many different services that are provided to help those who are in need.

The continuous increase of poverty in Robeson County is due to the economic and social impact of job loss. Many years ago, Robeson County had plenty of jobs to offer. There were factories that needed workers and bakeries that needed bakers, but eventually the factories were shut down. The decline in manufacturing left a lot of people without jobs.

The poverty came about due to a ripple effect of unfortunate events. First, the job loss. Second, the loss of household income. Third, loss of business tax. The cycle goes on and on. The lives of many people of the Lumbee tribe were effected. Robeson County is their home.

The goal has been to figure out what can be done to fix the issue of poverty in this county. Students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke conducted a research project that could help come solutions to the issue. The university is located in Robeson County. Their solutions are as follows; Need for funding programs, such as a food pantry and community garden. Community involvement is a major need.

Hunger does not just exist in local Robeson County community members, as quiet as it is kept, there are students, faculty, and staff right on the campus of UNC Pembroke who are hungry or food insecure. In 2013, through a non-random sampling, 200 students across the campus were given an adaption of a U.S Department of Agriculture measure of food security. The survey results proved that 11.5 freshman, 20percent sophomores, 34 percent juniors, 31.5 percent seniors, and 1.5 percent graduate students were food insecure. This information was provided by Christie Poteet, the CARE Resource Center director at UNCP.

Hurricane Matthew brings Further Issues

With poverty already being a major issue in Robeson County and some parts of Cumberland County, the natural disaster known as Hurricane Matthew was devastating to these counties. There are people who had homes and are now homeless. Cars have been totaled, businesses are suffering, schools are being made into shelters, and power and water were restored days after the storm. Due to the loss of power, food spoiled and had to be thrown away by many. These counties are in dire need of resources. The devastation from Hurricane Matthew has made history.

Photo taken of a Pembroke gas station after Hurricane Matthew. Photo taken by Carla Young from her car.
Photo taken of a Pembroke gas station after Hurricane Matthew. Photo captured and sent by  UNC Pembroke  student, Carla Young.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is still recovering from the historic disaster. Students evacuated due to flooding and loss of power and low water pressure. UNCP is at the heart of Pembroke, North Carolina. Seeing the university in such a state has caused an emotional reaction from many students.

“This is just really sad. Someone’s house caught on fire. That was hard to see. We didn’t expect this storm to be this bad here”, UNCP student Carla Young said.

John Bacon, a writer for USA Today, published an article highlighting the devastating affect of Hurricane Matthew on Lumberton, North Carolina. Bacon says the flood “devastated the poorest of the poor”. The article stated that the scenic Lumber River turned ugly during the storm. The river was bloated by the torrential rains of Hurricane Matthew to almost 4feet above its record crest. A day after the hurricane “a wide swath of the Robeson County seat remained knee-deep in water. It was a cruel fate for an economically depressed town historically saddled with an unemployment rate almost twice that of the state”. (Bacon, 2016)

The community is working together to rebuild.

In Cumberland County many had to evacuate or be rescued from their homes and businesses due to waist deep flooding. So many have lost their homes and cars. Children have been unable to attend school due to flooding and power loss. Some schools are being used as shelters for people who loss their homes during the hurricane. Grocery stores, churches, Social Services, and restaurants are working together to help those in dire need.

See drone footage from Robeson County:


Robeson and Cumberland County are not the only places suffering from the poverty epidemic. It’s everywhere. The fight to end poverty all over the world is ongoing.

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Hunger affects 1 out of 9 people in the world. This inforgraphic provides information on the people who are affected by this epidemic. Information retrieved from research on


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