Fighting hunger: As food insecurity rises, local nonprofits step up their efforts

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Food insecurity in Albemarle County is on the rise. Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, reports that while 11.8 percent of Charlottesville’s population was food insecure in 2018, that number is expected to rise to 15.1 percent by the end of 2020. Accordingly, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank told Richmond’s NBC12 in August that 12 percent of its June customers were new clients needing emergency food assistance for the first time.

There are a variety of local places supporting the projected three in every 20 Charlottesvillians who are unsure where they’ll find their next meal. The organizations’ donation needs have changed during the pandemic, and the holiday season is always a crucial time, so here’s how you can help.

Blue Ridge Food Bank

What it does: Ninety-seven percent of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s pantries across Virginia have stayed open to provide groceries during the pandemic, thanks to safety restrictions including drive-through food pickups and pre-packaged meal boxes.

How to help: According to the BRAFB website, a one-dollar donation can fund four meals. Volunteer opportunities are also available for low-risk workers.

Loaves & Fishes

What it does: Loaves & Fishes, the largest agency of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, supplies groceries twice a month for families who need extra assistance filling their pantry. It currently operates a drive-through grocery pickup where clients accept bags from masked volunteers without leaving their cars.

How to help: Limited volunteering opportunities are available. Monetary donations can be made on the website. Thanksgiving dishes (anything from canned yams to instant mashed potatoes to frozen turkeys) are in high demand, as are diapers.

Meals on Wheels

What it does: Meals on Wheels of Charlottesville/Albemarle is a nonprofit that has delivered hot meals five days a week since 1977. The organization connects with the most isolated members of Charlottesville in the most isolating time of their lives, ensuring that secluded seniors are checked on daily.

How to help: Over 90 percent of the meals provided by Meals on Wheels are directly subsidized by monetary donations, which can be made on the website. Contact MoW directly if you’re interested in providing physical donations or volunteering to do anything from answering phones to driving delivery vans. For holiday gift baskets, the organization is looking for mugs, tea, cocoa, puzzle books, winter accessories, and toiletries.

The Haven

What it does: When Charlottesville residents find themselves without a home, The Haven works to make that situation “rare, brief, and nonrecurring.” In addition to providing temporary housing, the shelter helps unhoused families seek new residences to call home.

How to help: The Haven website lists what a financial donation would fund, from $47 (a day’s worth of showers) to $2,1000 (the move-in cost for a one-bedroom apartment). Volunteering is limited due to safety restrictions, but low-risk volunteers can apply. In addition to monetary contributions, The Haven is looking for donations of coffee, as well as volunteers to work breakfast shifts over the holidays.

Emergency Food Network

What it does: Customers in need can call the Emergency Food Network once a month to receive kits for three healthy meals. No financial proof of need is required. Meal bags include non-perishables like canned tuna and fresh items like bread and milk.

How to help: All volunteer slots are full, and due to COVID-19 restrictions, food donations can’t be accepted; financial contributions are preferred. According to the Emergency Food Network, small operating expenses mean that about 91 cents of every dollar is spent on food.

Local Food Hub

What it does: Local Food Hub works to connect local farmers with extra food to local consumers without fresh food. ItsFresh Farmacy program provides those in need with biweekly installments of locally sourced fruits and vegetables.

How to help: Food is already provided by area farmers, so monetary donations are the way to go. Thirty dollars is enough to send a bag of locally grown produce to someone in need.

Cultivate Charlottesville

What it does: Cultivate Charlottesville has helped students build gardens at schools across the city. According to CC, gardens built through the program have involved over 2,000 volunteers and produced over 80,000 pounds of food as part of the Food Justice Network, a group of more than 35 organizations working not only to alleviate hunger in the short term, but to attack the problem at its roots.

How to help: Volunteers are needed for everything from planting, harvesting, and weed control to outreach and research. Those interested in the organizational aspects of food justice can intern in the Cultivate Charlottesville office.

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