September is Hunger Action Month and with the pandemic affecting the Peninsula for more than six months, action is key.
The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank needs people to act with donations, both with food and monetary. They also need volunteers to pack and distribute grocery boxes at the drive-through pantry locations, said Karen Joyner, executive director.
Prior to the pandemic, 11 percent of households on the Peninsula experienced food insecurity. Currently, the rate is 16.6 percent. For children, the rate of food insecurity is 24.6 percent.
“That means one in every four children is experiencing food insecurity,” she said.
Food insecurity is defined, by the USDA, as not having enough food to have a healthy lifestyle, she said. Or in other words, not knowing where the next meal will come from, Joyner added.
The increased rate hit in the middle of March, around the time governor closed the schools for the remainder of the school year.
Before the pandemic the Peninsula Food Bank partly depended on local grocery stores to donate food. Food that was donated included slightly dented cans or was near the “best by” date.
Joyner said the “best by” does not mean the food is expired, according to USDA guidelines. Most times it is good for still another 12 to 18 months.
Much of that type of food has been bought, rather than overlooked by consumers.
In addition, the food bank bought in bulk. That too has hit a snag.
“Now, because of the run on groceries, it takes longer for us to receive it. It takes seven weeks instead of two weeks,” Joyner said.
“Overall the food supply chain just cannot restock as fast as the demand,” she added.
Donations are currently down about 15 percent. In March and April, donations were down 30 percent.
Smithfield Foods, used to donate poultry from the Newport News warehouse. However, that closed at the end of 2019.
Joyner said with schools and businesses closed, or people working at home, food drives for the Peninsula Food Bank have decreased.
Unfortunately, the Peninsula Food Bank is about to face another challenge. The federal government provided funds to supplement food purchases for the food bank, but that money will run out in October, she said.
There are several ways to help: donating food and money, or volunteering. With the pandemic, virtual food drives have been established. A virtual food drive is similar to shopping for groceries online, except the groceries are going to the food bank.
The Peninsula Food Bank is also in need of volunteers to pack boxes of food to distribute in drive-thru panties that are set up in large parking lots, where 20 volunteers are needed to help distribute the food. They also take to-go meals to Buckroe for children who cannot get to a location where the school system is providing meals.
Volunteers must be 16 years old to volunteer without an adult present and at least 12 with an adult. She said going to the website and checking out the calendar to see when volunteers are needed is the first step.
Finally Joyner said advocacy is important, including talking to politicians about food insecurity.
For more information on how to help visit www.hrfoodbank.org
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