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 Monday, September 29, 2014
Serving The Land Between the Lakes - Philpott and Smith Mountain News Search   

 

The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Feeding America Southwest Virginia: Fighting hunger since 1981
Home Tour Charity Profile
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Claire and Jerry Blake sort and inspect canned goods for Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

By BARB NOCERA - Special to the News-Post

Despite some positive signs of the national economy bouncing back from the recession, there are still far too many people in Southwest Virginia who are "food insecure," meaning they really don't know where they will find their next meal.

The level of need is directly related to ups and downs in local employment -- Southwest Virginia has been hard-hit with plant closings and downsizings over the past decade. Currently, 151,000 people and 48,300 children in the area meet the definition of "food insecure."

It is hard to find a charity that has a more meaningful impact on the less-fortunate people in local communities than this regional food bank. In an average month, Feeding America Southwest Virginia food bank serves more than 125,000 individuals through 398 partner programs.

From two distribution centers in Salem and Abingdon, food is distributed to programs in a 26-county, nine-city region in southwestern Virginia. The area is as vast as the states of New Jersey and Connecticut combined.

Did you ever wonder where your local food pantry, soup kitchen, after-school program, emergency shelter or elderly care program gets its food? In all likelihood, the answer is Feeding America Southwest Virginia. By gathering food from a variety of sources on a massive scale, all the participating programs benefit from lower food costs. In many cases, the regional food bank is the lifeline that keeps these local food programs afloat.

Individuals, manufacturers, retailers, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others donate food. A network of hundreds of partner agencies -- such as food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and children's centers -- come to the food bank to select food and products they can use to help those in need. Member agencies distribute the food, free of charge, directly to the disadvantaged.

For the second year in a row, Feeding America Southwest Virginia is one of the charities selected to benefit from the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour. Feeding America's Director of Volunteer Services Robert Rogers is the charity's lead liaison with the home tour.

"Being part of the charity home tour is a commitment on our part to help with event fundraising, participate in training and provide volunteers during the tour," Rogers said. "But the payoff is enormous, not only in money, but in expanding our outreach and building relationships in the community."

Not surprisingly, the food bank attributes its success to community support. It relies on as many as 4,000 volunteers to run the Salem and Abingdon distribution centers. Volunteers work three-hour shifts, doing a variety of tasks, ranging from office support, sorting and inspecting canned and dry goods, to washing produce and packaging food for distribution.

Claire and Jerry Blake exemplify the type of dedicated volunteers who donate their time every week to help Feeding America. The couple has volunteered at the food bank for two and a half years.

"When I retired, I began looking for a volunteer activity, and Feeding America was at the top of the list," said Claire Blake. "After all, what more basic need is there than food?"

Before retiring, Claire Blake worked for 13 years at Partners in Financial Planning. That company's Managing Director James E. Pearman Jr. is currently board chairman of Feeding America. She said she was impressed and inspired by how dedicated Pearman is to the organization.

How did her husband, Jerry, decide where he wanted to volunteer? Claire Blake said, "I decided it was Feeding America and told Jerry that is where we're going to volunteer!"

Tina Ramirez is an example of another type of volunteer, one who hasn't yet launched her career. Ramirez attends Virginia Western Community College and plans to major in business. Having only worked at the food bank for a few weeks, she said she can already see that "volunteering at the food bank can really help make people's lives better."

Also key to running Feeding America are individual donations, as well as those of local companies, which provide both financial support and food. The list of major corporate sponsors is impressive, including Norfolk Southern; Valley Bank; Walmart; Woodforest National Bank; Advance Auto Parts; Ameriprise Financial; BB&T; Food Lion; Kroger; Alpha Natural Resources; Bank of America; and Corrugated Container Corp.

For its part, Kroger delivers four to five tractor-trailers of food per month to Feeding America. Items are scanned on-site at the food bank by a Kroger employee, and then sorted into bins for donation or for discard if damaged or beyond the item's expiration date.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia is one of eight charities that will benefit from the 2014 Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour that will be held Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10-12. Eight homes will offer ticket holders ideas for design, construction, decorating and landscaping.

For a full list of charities and sponsors, ticket purchase information and other details, visit www.smlcharityhometour.com.

For more about the food bank, call 540-342-3011 or visit www.faswva.org.

 
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