Area food banks are struggling with increasing demand for services. After asking the state for $1 million in emergency funding, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks is preparing for an unprecedented amount of need during 2009.
Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, says the state’s food banks are in serious need of funds to provide for the influx of new clients. “I would have wanted to ask for more [funds], but we are in a deficit situation,” Van Horn said. “This is the first time we have asked for money for an emergency situation.”
Gov. Tim Kaine mentioned the funding proposal in his 2009 State of the Commonwealth address, and why increased funding is so important.
“As the economy has worsened, food banks across the Commonwealth have seen donations decline and their shelves depleted,” Kaine said, “even as more Virginians have found themselves in need of this vital assistance.”
If the emergency funding is approved, it will provide more than 671,000 pounds of food for needy families. According to their website, the federation manages seven regional food banks with facilities in 14 locations, which provide food to specific areas in Virginia and Washington. Included in these branches are the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Network and the Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank. Jeremy Butterfield, the Roanoke Valley branch’s public relations and communications officer, says if the emergency funding is approved, it will help to feed more people and also will raise awareness. Money “will not solve, by any means, the hunger issue, but it would supplement a great deal,” Butterfield said. “In addition to the money, the message that the state would send would be more important … that Virginia is behind the effort to help those struggling with hunger.”
Second Harvest reported a 9 percent to 28 percent increase in need from its distribution area, which includes the Roanoke Valley, Appalachian area and the Alleghany Highlands. Butterfield says the increase is not surprising considering the economic situation, declining job rates and fluctuating gas prices.
“Those who were on the verge of struggling with hunger have been pushed over the edge and are now seeking our assistance,” Butterfield said. “When it comes to the downturn, it’s widespread. This is hitting everyone from rich to poor.”
The Blue Ridge network served more than 17,000 people in November 2008, which has increased from the 14,400 served in November 2007. Ruth Jones, the organization’s public relations officer, says these numbers will continue to increase in 2009.
“It’s hard to even describe the amount of demand we’ve seen in the past two years,” Jones said. “These numbers have continually increased month after month. It’s unprecedented. I haven’t seen it like this before.”
Van Horn says food has to be rationed carefully to maintain a certain level of service.
Latala Payne is a VCU Journalism Student and contributed this story through the Capital News Service.