By Carol Vaughn —
The Foodbank is among local agencies providing critical assistance to Eastern Shore residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Foodbank is striving to maintain in this time of uncertainty. Our priority is to continue to provide services to our communities. While that might look different now due to COVID 19, we have been able to maintain all of our partners and services at this time,” said Charmin Horton, branch manager, in a Jan. 11 email.
Around 300 individuals or families receive food each week during twice weekly distributions of USDA commodities at the Foodbank’s Tasley location, according to a fact sheet.
Additionally, another approximately 300 a week receive food through distributions by the Foodbank’s 13 partner agencies up and down the Shore.
The branch also has three sites for food distributions to senior citizens, which help more than 150 people.
Mobile pantries also serve on average 555 individuals or families on the Shore each month.
Demand for food assistance “changes with every phase of the state of Virginia; as resources and benefits continue to change, our services and numbers continue to change,” Horton said, adding, “The need at this time is great and we are working to best meet that need.”
Feeding America in November released updated food insecurity projections for 2020 showing the number of people facing food insecurity was likely be significantly elevated compared to recent years.
Food insecurity is defined as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all members of a given household and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
On the Eastern Shore, the number of Accomack County residents projected to be food insecure in 2020 was projected to be 5,140, compared to 4,150 in 2018.
In Northampton County, the number was projected to be 2,070, compared to 1,650 in 2018.
COVID-19 has spiked demand for emergency food assistance across Virginia.
Feeding America estimates Virginia’s food insecurity rate would increase from 9.9% to 13.1% on an annual basis because of the pandemic. Virginia food banks served at least 30,000 more unique households in 2020 than in 2019.
Additionally, because food donations were down due to food supply disruptions — by one million pounds through the first half of the year — each food bank on average is having to purchase twice as much food each month to keep up with demand.
Asked what kind of assistance from Post readers would be helpful to the Foodbank, Horton said, “Time, resources, and advocacy. We are asking for support from small volunteer groups as we are allowing smaller groups to help us with production and distribution at our Tasley facility.
“We are always looking for additional community partners to assist with food distribution and resource collaboration.
“Advocate, help be our voice in the community, share your stories, share your support, and let others know why you support the Foodbank.”
During the pandemic, the Foodbank is continuing with all of its programs “the best we can,” according to Horton.
“We are looking to create programs that address the grass roots of hunger and the resources needed to address those issues,” Horton said, adding, “We are still doing TEFAP (the USDA’s The Emergency Food Assistance Program) distributions through our partner agencies, we are doing CSFP (the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program) distribution to assist with the needs of our local seniors, we are working to continue our backpack program in our local school systems.”
TEFAP distributes about half a billion dollars in USDA foods each year through food banks across the country.
CSFP helps low-income seniors at least 60 years old supplement their diets with nutritious USDA foods.
Additionally, the Foodbank on the Eastern Shore has started a Healthy Food Pantry program, working with health care providers for patient referrals to provide access to healthy foods, nutrition education, financial literacy, and physical education to assist with patients’ health conditions.
A $1 million grant from Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health helped Virginia food banks strengthen their response to issues of health disparities and food insecurity through the Health Pantry Network, according to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.
Plans are being made for the Foodbank on the Eastern Shore to open a food hub, which in addition to healthy food options will have access to resources to address other needs, including higher education, employment, and housing, among others.
A food hub is defined by the USDA as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”
Details about the food hub’s kickoff will be coming.
Information about how and where to receive assistance and also how to help or donate to the Foodbank is at foodbankonline.org or call 757-787-2557.
The Foodbank Eastern Shore Branch is at 24530 Coastal Blvd., Tasley.
The mailing address is P. O. Box 518, Tasley, VA 23441.