Council approves $625K to combat food insecurity and substance abuse, provide workforce training in film

Northside Food Co-Op Project Manager Evan Folds delivers free food curbside at a pop-up event last winter. (Port City Daily/Williams)

WILMINGTON — On Wednesday, city council voted on funneling a total of $625,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to three area nonprofits. The city is slated to get almost $26 million from ARPA over the next two years and has received $13 million of funding to date. $9 million will go toward economic recovery and community assistance programs, according to a press release.

Nov. 3 council voted in favor of $400,000 going toward the new nonprofit Film Partnership of NC. The program will provide workforce training and focus on diversifying the candidate pool within the local film industry, which has experienced a boom in 2021. It’s projected to be Wilmington’s biggest year yet, drawing in over $300 million.

Multiple productions have been filming simultaneously in town throughout the year; film crews operate with anywhere between 200 and 400 people per production. With Covid-19 affecting the employment market, crew remains in high-demand. The Film Partnership of NC will help with instruction behind the scenes for carpenters, electricians, camera operators, and production assistants. It will train a minimum of 90 people, specifically focusing on underserved communities, paying $15 an hour, with up to 10 hours of overtime at $22 per hour.


READ MORE: New job training program would diversify film crews, Wilmington likely to commit initial funds

“These resources will not only fund the 90 person trainings but also serve as a likely catalyst for additional public and private resource investments,” the city noted in its release.

Also focusing on underserved areas, the Northside Food Co-Op will be allotted $125,000 to help in its efforts to provide fresh produce and food to downtown Wilmington residents. The food co-op launched in 2020 with the goal to build a much-needed grocery store in the Northside. The area is considered a food desert, in that it houses low-income populations with most residents living more than a mile away from the nearest grocer.

The Northside Co-op has a nine-member board made up of civic leaders and members from local nonprofits and businesses, some even Northside neighbors, tasked with breaking the cycle of food insecurity in the area. Over the last few months, the group has been hosting Saturday markets, working with local famers and other vendors who sell produce, meats, homemade goods and soaps to area shoppers.

Cierra Washington, the co-op’s strategic outreach and partnership coordinator, told Port City Daily in October the funds will go toward operational costs of the co-op, including staffing, and helping with its end goal to launch a grocery store.

Evan Folds, the co-op project manager, wrote to Port City Daily that, more specifically, the money “will go towards videography for telling the story of our project, direct food purchases, community events, additional hours for our community engagement advocates, and covering operational expenses for our current food distribution work.” The Association of American Medical Colleges noted 54 million people were affected by food insecurity during the pandemic. Locally, the Food Bank of Eastern NC – Wilmington estimates 74,830 face hunger in the immediate area.

READ MORE: Wilmington doles out more coronavirus relief money. This time, it’s to fight food insecurity

Another issue exacerbated by the pandemic: substance abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 93,000 lives were taken from overdoses in 2020, a 30% increase from 2019. Last year, New Hanover County experienced 32 deaths per 100,000 residents due to unintentional opioid overdose — 45% higher than the average in North Carolina.

Coastal Horizons’ Opioid Overdose Quick Response Team (QRT) helped combat the numbers by providing services for those facing a substance abuse disorder. The Opioid Overdose QRT program started in 2018 as a pilot focused on opiates, in response to Wilmington being one of the highest ranking cities facing the crisis across the nation.

City council awarded $100,000 of ARPA funds to Coastal Horizons to continue its outreach. The money will help continue a “temporary, ongoing innovative overdose reduction and treatment program,” according to the city’s press release. The program is anchored by specialists who work in the field with people who have been referred by family members, as well with community members who have overdosed but chose not to seek treatment. The professionals often have first-hand experiences with substance abuse and continue to reach out to individuals until a no-contact request is made.

In 2019 and 2020, Coastal Horizon’s QRT specialists offered help to 589 overdose survivors, with 513 seeking treatment. The program showed a 90% success rate in 2019-2020.

READ MORE: Wilmington invests $100K in ARP funds to combat spike in overdoses during pandemic

Wilmington City Council must obligate ARPA funds by Dec. 31, 2024. So far council has put $4.67 million toward infrastructure and $12.26 million for the continued Covid-19 response and recovery, such as staff bonuses. It’s awarding $700,000 to nonprofits, with $200,000 of it going to organizations with arts-based programming.

The city also joined a partnership with the county to fund $4.2 million in small business grants. The city funded 86 companies with $1.9 million, with the county helping 106 companies with $2.3 million. The grant program drew in 650 businesses applicants, with 192 meeting all qualifications 

Council will address additional ARPA fund allocations at an upcoming meeting in December.


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