Foodbank plans to transform

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and its community partners provided 15 million meals to adults and children in 11 cities and counties in 2017. But 16 million more meals were needed to fill the number of meals the region needs each year on average.

Foodbank personnel unveiled its new three-year strategic plan to fix that gap at the 2018 Hunger Summit held at ODU’s Webb University Center on March 2. Their goal is to close the meal gap by addressing the root causes of food insecurity.

“We’re expanding our scope and working with our community partners to not just feed the line but end the line,” Todd Emmett, communications manager at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, said in a phone interview.

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More than 171,000 individuals living in South Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore deal with food insecurity daily. They don’t how they will get their next meal — and 42,000 of them are children, according to the strategic plan.

“It was surprising really that so many folks were not making tough choices but making tough choices when it came to the basics,” Chief Executive Officer Ruth Nichols said at the summit in regards to statistics collected in the past year. “Sixty-nine percent had to choose between food and utilities; 67 percent choose between food and transportation; 66 percent between food and medical care.”

The plan is to increase community awareness about the consequences of hunger and food insecurity to mobilize the public into supporting hunger-relief programs. One of those causes is limited education among people struggling just to eat.

“If you’re having to choose between food and education, then how do you move to a place where you don’t need to show up in the line at the foodbank?” Nichols said.

The Foodbank plans to increase the amount of fresh produce they distribute from 30 to 40 percent of their total distribution in the next five years. This should help increase the number of healthy, nutritious meals available for communities in food deserts, where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.

Expanding their donor base and hunger-relief initiatives will help provide more meals, along with empowering their workforce. They’ll also work to strengthen bonds with community partners like Suffolk’s East End Baptist Church, which distributed 94,606 meals throughout the city in fiscal year 2017.

“We want to make sure that we start talking to anyone that has a role to play and to join the fight,” Emmett said.

The Foodbank’s goals to transform go beyond warehousing and logistics, according to the strategic plan. It involves building relationships with more community partners to implement programs that will help achieve economic self-sufficiency, such as market-style pop-ups at schools that offer nutrition, educational and wellness services.

“We know feeding people alone will not beat hunger. In fact, it’s a bit transactional,” Nichols said. “If we’re going to leverage food to change people’s lives, ultimately what we want to see is transformation.”

Emmett said in an email that the Salvation Army in Suffolk met with the Foodbank to discuss a new partnership that will turn the Foodbank’s mobile pantry in Suffolk into a mini health fair. Along with delivering food, Sentara Obici Hospital will provide health screenings at these fairs. There will also be a mobile library, food samplings and cooking demonstrations.

“This is a pilot program for the Foodbank, and Suffolk is leading the charge,” Emmett said.