By Erin Rice
For many years, the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach (JLNVB) has focused its community efforts to mitigate childhood obesity and nutrition among children in South Hampton Roads. As a result of that initiative, the members of the JLNVB have committed their time to close the meal gap and ensuring our children have the capacity to learn and grow. We cannot expect our young people to excel in the classroom if they are more focused on the pains in their stomach than the lessons communicated by their teacher.
Foodbanks are the most efficient and effective way to address the hunger and food problem in this country. We are fortunate to have one of the best food banks right here in Hampton Roads. Many of you likely drive past it every day and fail to realize all the incredible things that are happening within its walls. The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore (Foodbank) was organized and incorporated in March 1981 with the mission of collecting and distributing food to nonprofit organizations that service hungry and ill members of our community. The Foodbank promotes food recovery; acquires and distributes food, clothing and related products; and provides community leadership and education on issues of hunger and poverty.
The Foodbank is a great community leader in the fight to eliminate hunger in our community, but that is no easy task. The Foodbank provides assistance to people experiencing food insecurity throughout its 4,745 square-mile service area (which is HUGE by the way!) including the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Franklin, and Virginia Beach as well as the counties of Southampton, Northampton, Sussex, Isle of Wight and Accomack. That is six large metropolitan areas and five rural jurisdictions, which demonstrates that hunger can affect people of many different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and life situations. According to Feeding America, there are 131, 560 people throughout the region dealing with food insecurity, which equates to about 16 percent of the overall population. As you can see, the Foodbank’s task is large and the need for food only continues to grow.
Under the leadership of its Chief Executive Officer Ruth Jones Nichols, the Foodbank fulfills its mission through the following activities.
- Food Distribution Programs: This is the heart of the Foodbank and where millions of pounds of food are sorted, boxed and delivered to over 400 partner agencies and programs.
- Mobile Food Pantry: The Mobile Pantry provides a means for individuals and families to receive food when they cannot travel. During the fiscal year 2016, this program distributed 1.4 million pounds of food to individuals to the elderly and homebound.
- Backpack Program: Backpacks are filled with food that children take home on nights and weekends. At the present time, the Foodbank serves 53 elementary schools in our area. During the fiscal year 2016, the Foodbank distributed over 61,200 bags to over 3,400 students.
- Kids Café: This national after-school program was created by Feeding America™ and is administered locally by the Foodbank. It is a place where children ages 5 through 18 can go to receive free, nutritious evening meals in a safe, supportive environment. Thirteen kids cafés are currently operating in our region, conveniently located in low-income neighborhoods so participating children can walk or bicycle to these sites after school.
- Justine’s Clothes Bank: The Clothes Bank provides vouchers to needy individuals to be used for the purchase of new clothing and shoes. It is partially supported by the earnings from a permanently restricted endowment fund established for this purpose.
For many years, JLNVB has been assisting the Foodbank by hosting food collection drives as well as providing quality assurance support at its warehouse in Norfolk. Multiple times a month, our volunteers sort, inspect and package donated non-perishable food items to ensure they are suitable for distribution. As the JLNVB continues to research and evaluate its existing community issues and partnerships, I am encouraged on the potential of doing significantly more with the Foodbank to address childhood hunger, poverty, and homelessness.
Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP. (November 11, 2016). Final Statements for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. Norfolk, Virginia. Retrieved from http://foodbankonline.org/wp- content/uploads/2017/02/FY16-Issued-Financials.pdf.
Feeding America. (2017). Map the Meal Gap 2017 – Overall Food Insecurity in Virginia by County in 2015. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.feedingamerica.org/research/map-the-meal-gap/data-by -county-in-each-state.html.
Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore (2017). What We Do: Food Programs. Norfolk, Virginia. Retrieved from http://foodbankonline.org/what-we-do/food-programs/.