Vance County middle schoolers have a unique opportunity this Thursday that involves food, gift cards, COVID-19 vaccinations and pumpkins. Lots of pumpkins.
Henderson-based Gang Free Inc. has partnered with Food Lion, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, among others, to sponsor “Pumpkin, Paint and Pizza at Vance County Middle School on Thursday, Oct. 14 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Gang Free founder Melissa Elliott shared details about the upcoming event on Monday’s Town Talk with John C. Rose.
The term “food insecurity” has become a more commonly used familiar phrase recently, but Elliott said it’s less-often associated with children. With great support from Food Lion, she said the first 100 children to arrive will get $50 Food Lion gift cards.
The evening is “designed to bring middle school students and their parents out to a night of creative fun, while also promoting vaccination equity and education,” Elliott said.
Any person getting a first vaccine also will receive a $100 gift card, she noted. A $10 incentive is available for anyone who gets tested for COVID-19.
This three-pronged approach to a community event – fighting food insecurities, vaccine education and (of course) fun – is one way that Gang Free, Inc. strives to be “an answer to challenges… (W)e continue to use innovative ways to educate and empower to keep our community safe,” Elliott said in a written statement to WIZS.
The Hub Zone Tech Initiative also will be on-site to accept donated laptops that will be refurbished and re-distributed into the community.
Vance County Middle School Principal Stephanie Ayscue reached out to Elliott in search of pumpkins, but, through partnerships, the event has become so much more.
Students will have a chance to eat pizza, decorate a pumpkin and take home a gift card for future use.
Elliott said she and Principal Ayscue hope the event will increase community and parent support. “We’re here to support them,” Elliott said, adding that she wants everyone to know that no one in this community has to be hungry and no one has to go unvaccinated.
The idea of vaccination inequity often revolves around misinformation, she said. A key to combat that misinformation lies “in getting the right message into the community.”
Barriers to vaccination, in addition to misinformation, include access to transportation to get to a shot location or access to the internet to make an appointment.
A community outreach team spends a lot of time fanning out to areas known for low vaccination rates to help get the right message into the community regarding vaccinations, Elliott said.
The teams have been to the Williamsboro community, as well as Sandy Creek, and will be hitting South Henderson as well. “If we’re not out knocking on doors, we’re making phone calls,” she said.
Whether it’s by canvassing pockets of unvaccinated areas in the county, doling out gift cards or providing pumpkins for children to paint and decorate, Gang Free, Inc. has a laser-sharp focus on making people’s lives better.
“We want to continue to be a blessing in the community,” she added.
Gang Free Inc. is sponsoring another event on Friday, Oct. 15 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in downtown Henderson, Elliott said.
The Hispanic Heritage celebration will fill up the entire block surrounding 200 Breckenridge St. with the sights, sounds and aromas from a wide range of Spanish-speaking cultures.
Dr. Alice Sallins joined Elliott on Town Talk to speak about the upcoming event.
“We have a strong Hispanic population in Vance County,” Sallins said. “We need to be supportive and to learn about their culture,” she added. With learning comes understanding, including what needs are unmet, she said.
Sallins, chairperson of the Henderson-Vance Downtown Development Commission’s Promotions Committee, said having this event in downtown Henderson shows the community’s involvement in downtown.
It’s not just for the Latinex community, Elliott said. “We don’t want just the Hispanic people to come,” she noted. “We want everybody to come out and participate,” she said.
Visit gangfreeinc.org to learn more.