Free Meals 060915 04jr

Food is served during the Arise breakfast at Grace United Methodist Church, on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Greensboro, N.C. (JOSEPH RODRIGUEZ/News & Record)

GREENSBORO — A new booklet has been going around town since April.

Lime-colored. Eight pages thick.

Think of “The Little Green Book: Free Meals in Greensboro” as a weekly planner for the needy.

You can eat breakfast Mondays at Center City Park.

And dinner Tuesdays at First Presbyterian Church.

And lunch Fridays at Potter’s House.

But this article isn’t about the booklet, which lists 30 churches and other sites serving free meals either weekly or monthly.

It’s about what the booklet has revealed: There’s more “food insecurity” in Greensboro than anyone realized.

“People are hungry,” said Dennis Bass, among 225 people waiting downtown Monday night for free turkey sandwiches and chips. “I don’t know how it got to this point.”

Organizers of some of the 22 groups who serve free meals say they’ve been seeing more people — in some cases twice as many — than this time last year.

Some sites, particularly those operated by small, grass-roots organizations, are running out of food before everyone gets fed.

They attribute the spike to “The Little Green Book.”

It was created by Amy Murphy, known as the “Chicken Lady” to the people who gather for her weekly fried chicken breakfasts each Monday at Center City Park.

Murphy dropped off 400 copies of her booklet at Guilford County health and social service department offices. She said she was hoping to reach people unfamiliar with the network of free meals across the city.

It worked.

Founders of other food ministries have since told Murphy that they’re serving people with jobs and homes but no money for food.

She said she recently handed a booklet to a man and woman sitting in a car, their children in the back seat. Murphy told them the booklet would help them eat free three times a day on some days.

One child asked incredulously: “Three times a day?”

Murphy waited until later to cry.

She since has given 5,000 more booklets to county agencies.

Our city’s problem with “food insecurity” — terminology for people not knowing when they’ll eat again — is well-documented.

In April, a Gallup poll commissioned by the Food Research and Action Center ranked Greensboro first among the nation’s metropolitan areas for food insecurity. A quarter of those surveyed said they had experienced food insecurity in the previous 12 months.

Sally Randall, the founder of re4HIM (pronounced “reform”), said she is seeing more families and more shift workers on Mondays, when her group serves dinner in front of Greensboro City Hall.

She and her friends have served meals there for three years. Their patrons were mostly homeless people, who learned of the free meal site from others in their community.

Before “The Little Green Book” came out, the most they had served in one night was 200 people.

This week, the line snaked through a grassy area and spilled onto the sidewalk along Greene Street.

She estimated 225 people, maybe even 250.

“You have to be very desperate to go someplace for food and stand in line,” Randall said. “It’s not a great feeling.

“This to me means there is some real desperation.”

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Contact Margaret Moffett at (336) 373-7031, and follow @MargaretMoffett on Twitter.

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