Richmond’s Latino community facing hunger find nourishment at Waymakers food pantry

Community

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Waymakers Foundation food pantry is located in southside Richmond on Hull Street. The pantry caters to all people from different backgrounds and nationalities but predominately serves Latinos.

Latino families can find unique products at the pantry like flour to make tortillas and seasonings for everyday cooking.

The pantry was founded by Natasha Lemus who helps small business owners and the community through her business, Latin Tax Service. Over the years, she’s become a pillar in the Latino community.

Natasha Lemus
Natasha Lemus takes food out of the fridge to get ready for an afternoon food drive. (Photo: Keyris Manzanares/8News)

Lemus said she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she decided to start the food pantry at her business. Now, the pantry serves Latino families on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Wednesdays, volunteers deliver food boxes to clients who are unable to get to the pantry.

milks and food
Food is prepared and organized before families arrive for pick up at the Waymakers Foundation. Photo: Keyris Manzanarers, 8News

“There was like a barrier of the language — of trying to get food, of how to communicate, where to go,” Lemus said. “One day I was just like ‘hey let’s give back and let’s give back in a way of what the people need.’

Lemus started the pantry with personal funds when the pandemic started in March of 2020. She started off small just packing foods she knew people liked. Working at the pantry, Lemus said she learned a lot including the real meaning of what it takes to be a volunteer.

“We have struggled but we have learned from those struggles and learned how to keep going,” Lemus explained.

Lemus said that from talks in the community she learned that Latinos were having a hard time accessing and being supplemented by food.

“I knew there was a gap,” Lemus said. “I did not understand where it was. Then I figured out it was the food that was being given to them.”

Lemus wanted to make her pantry somewhere Latinos could go and pick up items they use daily.

food and veggies
Products given out at the Waymakers Foundation pantry are culturally sensitive foods. Photo: Keyris Manzanares, 8News

“We eat tortillas and we cook beans. And all Latinos cook beans,” Lemus said.

Food insecurity in the Latino community comes down to a couple of factors: language, education and cultural barriers.

Sandra Meza, a mother of four who lost her job during the pandemic, told 8News that when she started coming to the Waymakers Foundation pantry she was shocked at the products they were giving out.

orders
Waleska Salguero, a volunteer at Waymakers, told 8News she started volunteering after losing her job during the pandemic. Now she works at the foundation full time. Photo: Keyris Manzanares, 8News

“I feel really happy because its Latino food,” Meza said. “It is food that is necessary.”

Meza said that when she would visit other pantries she often received food that was close to expiring or products she didn’t recognize. But the food at Waymakers, she said, is clean and handpicked by Lemus as if it were for herself.

With the help of Feed More, Lemus has been able to take the Waymakers pantry to another level.

“Waymakers have been with us since last July,” Regional Manager at Feed More Anthony Johnson said. “When they came in Natasha was a fireball and wanting to do so much for the community, so we brought them on.”

Feed More has helped provide food for the pantry via their direct store pick-up option. Since Feed More brought them on, Waymakers has served over 4,000 families.

volunteers
From left to right: Natalia Del Cid, Ana Del Cid and Waleska Salguero volunteer their time at Waymakers Foundation on Thursday, May 18, 2021. Photo: Keyris Manzanares, 8News

“The food Waymakers gets is food-specific. It’s not going to be wasted, it is not food that will be thrown away,” Johnson said. “They do a really great job at having foods that are specific to the needs of the people and we are excited, Feed More, to be able to provide a lot of their food to them.”

Johnson explained that Feed More’s network saw a 243% increase in Latinos served from 2019 to 2020.

“8,000 Latinos were served in 2019 and 27,000 were served in 2020 through our network,” Johnson said.

Aside from the Waymakers pantry, Feed More has five other organizations that help feed the Latino and Hispanic communities. They are also bringing on two new organizations in the next couple of months.

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