RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Thirty-seven years ago, Shawnee Hansen witnessed something that would change her life, along with the lives of thousands of disadvantaged and homeless Richmonders.

“I saw a young child eating out of a trash can in South Richmond,” Hansen said. “It was a few days after Thanksgiving, and it just broke my heart. I had children that age myself. And I thought not in my community…it shouldn’t be.” 

That sight in 1986 sparked Hansen to make a change. She rallied a few friends and family members together to begin donating nutritious meals to people struggling in the community, and Richmond Friends of the Homeless (RFH) was born.

“When we first started, we had two people come, and then they brought someone and then they brought someone and they brought someone,” Hansen said. “About 17 years into the program, we expanded into a different area of the community, so now we have three program sites and we serve seven days a week.” 

RFH travels between three churches in Richmond, providing toiletry kits, clothes, socks, toys, and hot, nutritious meals. Hansen says every week, they serve about 3,400 meals.

“We have wonderful churches, congregations, businesses, civic groups, who each sign up to bring lunch a day. So they come to whichever site they’re supposed to be at and they bring the food,” Hansen said. “We try to have other things to be blessing. Toiletries kits, toys for children, blankets, coats, socks, anything that might be of a help.” 

Thirty-seven years into her service, Hansen said the need for hot meals and basic necessities is growing in Richmond. According to the 2022 Census, 19.8% of Richmonders live in poverty, meaning they don’t have enough money to meet basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter. However, the growing need has not slowed Hansen down.

“Unfortunately, the need right now is just growing and growing and growing,” she said. “The demand is just shocking but we’re keeping up. We have new groups calling and wanting to help, so that’s always good.” 

She adds that it’s all made possible through the volunteer base, which includes members of her own family.

“My daughter has helped since graduating college,” Hansen said. “We’re a good team and we’ll be available as long as there’s a need in RVA. We just don’t want anyone to be hungry in our community,”

Tommy Ingram is one of the volunteers who has served with RFH since its early days. He tells 8News that Hansen’s efforts are valued in the community.

“She asks us what they ask for and she tries to get them what they ask for and it all works out fine. She’s one of a kind,” Ingram said. “She weathers the storm, As long as I’ve known her…she’s always been like that. She’s just one of a kind.” 

Four decades into her service, Hansen said she has no intention to slow down, adding that she’ll serve the community as long as she sees a need.

“I’m blessed that I have the opportunity to bring people…together who want to do something with people that need something,” Hansen said.

For more information about the program and the schedule, visit them online.