CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — With food and gas prices on the rise, and persisting supply chain issues, food banks in Central Virginia are navigating new challenges, while working to keep up with the increased need in the region.
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Chesterfield Food Bank CEO Kim Hill reported that the organization saw demand grow by approximately 400%. Meanwhile, she told 8News that donations had declined by about half.
“We’re trying to make it through this time, too,” she said. “But it is another level of strain on food banks and households.”
Hill said that the food bank has been dipping into its reserves to continue to meet the needs of the community. But that means more canned and dry foods, as opposed to meat, dairy and produce.
“We’re having to go into our reserves — items that we, hopefully, did a very good job when we were using our donations to store the things that we needed to store,” she said. “We’re going to need help, we know, looking forward to the next six months. Between now and, hopefully, six months from now, we’ll start seeing produce coming back in, and we’ll start seeing items coming back in that we need. But we’re in a serious situation now.”
Starting this weekend, Hill told 8News that the Chesterfield Food Bank will be cutting back on the number of meals it can supply for a family of four from seven to four. The organization is still expecting to provide about 1,200 shopping carts worth of food to community members over the course of the weekend.
“Grocery stores are — it’s harder for them to donate at the level that they were donating, with inflation and everything that’s going on, and when the store shelf is empty, you can expect those are the same items — most of the same items that we’re going to be missing at the food bank, too,” Hill said. “We just don’t want to turn anybody away.”
In the food bank’s pantry, there are visibly empty spaces on the shelves, where stacks of cans and dry goods have stood in the past. On Tuesday, Hill said volunteers were sent home early because there was not enough food to sort.
“We’re very concerned about running out of dry goods and not having enough to give out,” she said. “Food drives are imperative. Financial support is hugely important. We think that’s what’s going to help us get through.”
Feed More, which is a major supplier of food for organizations like the Chesterfield Food Bank, has also been dipping into its reserves. But COO Rick Gliot said that this has not impacted the nonprofit’s ability to stock its shelves or provide partner agencies with the pounds of food that they need.
“Pre-pandemic, we were about a 31-million-pound food bank, serving our 29 counties and five municipalities. With the pandemic, we jumped up to almost 43 million lbs.,” he said. “We are still currently projecting that, when we end our fiscal year at the end of June, we’ll be about a 36-million-pound food bank.”
Gliot said that Feed More is paying more to gas up its delivery vehicles, and buying more food than in the past. He noted that the organization’s employees have worked with different vendors and manufacturers across the country to get good prices or delivery times for food, but that Feed More is still seeing a roughly 18% increase in the cost of food the nonprofit is buying.
“We have to buy things that we’re not capable of getting donated to us,” he said. “We have to plan with a much greater horizon, and so we’re looking out eight weeks, 10 weeks, where before, we were looking out two or three weeks. So we have to factor into our buying decisions how long it’s going to take us to get there. So it may not be the best price, but it’s the quickest delivery to us.”