RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — September is Hunger Action Month, and our parent company, Nexstar, is partnering with Feeding America to fight food insecurity.

This year, one out of nine people in Central Virginia will likely have insufficient access to food, but a powerful tool bridges the gap for millions — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“SNAP is really a safety net,” Eddie Oliver, executive director with the Federation of Virginia Food Banks told 8News. “Lots of families are living paycheck to paycheck. When we have situations like we did with this pandemic where, huge economic disruption [was] nobody’s fault, this program is a lifeline to meet the most basic needs folks have.”

A recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows nearly 750,000 Virginians receive SNAP benefits.

Earlier this year, the Virginia lawmakers expanded SNAP eligibility to people with gross incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line, up previously from 130%. It means 25,000 more Virginia families are eligible for food assistance, but many still aren’t getting the help they may need.

“By [the] last estimate, only 75% of Virginians who are eligible for SNAP are participating,” Oliver said.

Oliver says his organization wants to de-stigmatize SNAP.

“There are a lot of families who use SNAP who are working families,” Oliver explained. “We might refer to as underemployed — they just aren’t making enough. Even if they are making above minimum wage, they won’t have enough money to feed their family.”

SNAP, along with food banks like Feed More, are helping families get the nutrition they need. For every meal Feed More provides, SNAP donates nine. Oliver says the partnership is crucial for keeping Virginians fed.

“If that were to disappear overnight, we would have a full-blown hunger crisis on our hands because there’s no way food banks could step in to fill that gap,” Oliver said.

Help also comes from generous donors like Ned Cox. He and his two sons, Carr and Spencer, decided to “live below the line” for five days this past July. The challenge means Cox and his sons lived on the international poverty line – $1.90 a day.

“I experienced emotionally what a family who’s food insecure has to go through every day,” Cox told 8News. “What it must feel like for a parent to look at their children every day and have to make those hard decisions.”

Cox and his sons raised nearly $20,000. He says it was his way of bringing awareness to food insecurity.

“There’s a lot of people through no fault of their own are just on hard times,” he said. “Particularly, with COVID. There’s nothing wrong with getting help and reaching out if you need it because it will help you bridge that gap.”

To see if you’re eligible for SNAP benefits, click here.