By Carol Vaughn —
First Lady Pam Northam was on the Eastern Shore Monday. Among her stops were visits to the Foodbank in Tasley and the Accomack County Health Department.
At the Foodbank, Northam and staff members filled grocery bags with canned foods and other nonperishable items destined for needy Shore residents.
Gov. Ralph Northam and members of his cabinet also volunteered at food banks throughout Virginia Monday, highlighting the critical role food banks are filling for Virginians facing food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food banks are an important first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity,” said Gov. Northam in a press release. “Virginia food banks have gone to extraordinary lengths to increase capacity and streamline the distribution of food amid a growing need for their services. Our administration will continue to use a variety of programs and funding to ensure no Virginian goes hungry during this health crisis,” he said.
The pandemic has increased food insecurity in Virginia. As result, more Virginians are using food bank services.
“One of the things we have been consistently making people aware of is that the projected food insecurity rate for our service area is showing a 33% increase overall and a 47% increase with children,” said Leah Williams-Rumbley, senior director of advocacy for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.
Around 300 individuals or households on the Shore receive food weekly during distributions at the Foodbank in Tasley and mobile pantries serve on average 555 individuals or families each month.
The Foodbank changed to a drive-up model for its food distributions since the start of the pandemic.
Additionally, 13 partner agencies distribute USDA food commodities, reaching another 300 people a week, and the branch has three sites that distribute food to more than 150 senior citizens.
Before the pandemic, around 850,000 Virginians, including 250,000 children, did not know where their next meal would come from, according to the release. Feeding America estimates the ongoing pandemic could result in up to 275,000 additional Virginians becoming food insecure.
In Accomack County, the number of people experiencing food insecurity in 2020 is projected to be 5,140, compared to 4,150 in 2018.
In Northampton County, the number is projected to be 2,070, compared to 1,650 in 2018.
Virginia in July committed $1.4 million in federal CARES Act funds to launch a new statewide initiative with Sentara Healthcare, Truist, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks called the “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan. The action provided around 100,000 boxes of food to Virginia residents.
In November, Gov. Northam allocated another $7 million of CARES Act money to assist Virginia food banks. The funds are in addition to $650,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding for food bank services.
In October, Northam and the Children’s Cabinet released the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger — a set of goals and strategies to improve food security.
The Federation of Virginia Food Banks operates seven regional Feeding America food banks across the Commonwealth that distribute food to partners within their regions. To support Virginia food banks or learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit https://vafoodbanks.org
‘It’s a marathon.’
The first lady met with Jonathan Richardson, chief operating officer of the Eastern Shore Health District, and other staff at the Accomack County Health Department in Accomac.
“Now that it’s a marathon, it’s really, really tiring on folks,” Northam said, thanking the health care workers for their extra efforts during the months-long, ongoing pandemic.
Richardson credited strong, long-established partnerships with Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and Eastern Shore Rural Health System with helping the health department during the pandemic.
Coronavirus outbreaks last spring at the Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods poultry processing facilities “put us to the test for sure. … It took a little time and a little effort and a lot of communication, but once we broke down some barriers and everybody understood we are here to help, we want to work with you, I think things went fairly well,” Richardson said, adding that since then, mitigation strategies the plants put into place “seem to be working. We’re not getting cases there.”
Northam told employees the secretary of health and human resources speaks of the Eastern Shore Health District as “the gold standard” in the commonwealth for its intervention with the poultry plant outbreaks, testing, and other efforts to help the community.
“It’s about protecting our neighbors and each other,” Northam said.
Pam Northam during her visit to the Shore also made stops at Northampton High School and the Northampton County Health Department.