Hungry for more space, food banks lease warehouse in Lakeside

The Virginia Federation of Food Banks leased out the Lakeside warehouse to serve as a staging area for a state-level food reserve. Photos courtesy VFFB.

A statewide nonprofit has staked out a sizable warehouse space to help feed demand for its hunger relief efforts.

The Federation of Virginia Food Banks has inked a lease on about 58,000 square feet of space at 5700 Brook Road. The federation is an association of seven regional food banks across the state and D.C. — including Feed More in Central Virginia — that are affiliates of Feeding America, a national hunger relief nonprofit.

The federation needed more space to store food acquired to support its We Care initiative, which is a response to demand for hunger relief created by the coronavirus pandemic.

It purchased enough food to fill 100,000 boxes with five days-worth of food using $1.2 million in donations it solicited for the effort. Most money came from Truist ($500,000) and Sentara Healthcare ($500,000).

“(We) rented the warehouse to serve as a staging area,” FVFB spokeswoman Katie Mandes said. “We had a lot of product that was coming in.”

Though the food sent out from a newly leased Lakeside warehouse, the boxes are assembled on-site at regional food banks such as the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, shown here.

A state-level stockpile is new territory for the group. Each member food bank has its own network of regional partners, ranging from food pantries to churches and other entities. That network is usually sufficient for food banks to meet their needs, but the increased demand of recent months motivated the creation of a statewide program.

The coronavirus pandemic hit food banks with a flurry of punches. Grocery stores had their food snapped up by customers in panic buying mode during the early days of the pandemic and they have had supply chain disruptions.

Grocery stores usually provide about 30 percent to 50 percent of the food banks’ stock and the pandemic has limited what food banks were able to acquire for their own purposes — just as food banks saw demand increase 30 percent to 75 percent, Mandes said.

So the Federation of Virginia Food Banks bought what it needed and Performance Food Group delivered the food to the Lakeside facility in mid-July. The company will distribute it to Federation of Virginia Food Banks partners throughout the year.

The nonprofit signed a six-month lease on the warehouse in June.

The state recently committed $1.4 million in CARES Act federal funding for a subsequent phase of the initiative. Feeding America projects another 450,000 Virginia residents will be short on food in 2020, or a total of 1.2 million people, Mandes said.

The pandemic has also prompted the creation of a new local hunger relief nonprofit, UGK Community First.

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