Feeding the multitude
CH Food Pantry sees growing need for food assistance
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Originally serving a client base of only four families, the Colonial Heights Food Pantry has grown exponentially since its establishment in 2004, and now serves 135150 families – which equates to 400 individuals – weekly.
According to Executive Director Warren Hammonds, the pantry’s success is a result of various forms of community support and local partnerships.
“We could not do what we do without two main things: community support, both with volunteers and donations of food and funds, and our two local foundation partners of Cameron Foundation and John Randolph Foundation,” he said.
One of the main ingredients for the pantry’s success
is the number of volunteer hours put in each week. Hammonds and another staff member are the only two paid staff, while the rest of the pantry is run by about 20 volunteers.
“We get over 1,000 volunteer hours within a month, and about 350 volunteer hours every single week,” Hammonds said. “That’s almost $7,000 a month on the scale of [the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics].”
The pantry obtains their food and other products through a variety of sources, including their primary source, FeedMore, which serves as Central Virginia’s core hunger-relief organization. According to their website, FeedMore is “dedicated to providing neighbors in need with healthy meals.”
“We purchase every single week from FeedMore ... some protein and a lot of produce every single week,” said Hammonds. “We get two shipments – a lot on Wednesday and some on Friday.”
The food pantry also maintains partnerships and receives food from several local grocery stores, including Target, Walmart, Food Lion and Publix.
“Another big source is our partnerships with local grocery stores, so we pick up [from the grocery stores], and they give us things that are no longer saleable at their level but are completely good to consume,” said Hammonds. “Volunteers commit their time to go pick things up from those stores every single day.”
“The pickups are done pretty much solely by volunteers, so they spend their gas money and use their cars to pick up frozen meats, deli, dairy, shelfstable food [and] produce,” he added. “So a lot of the produce that you will see was rescued from those grocery stores.”
After obtaining the products, the volunteers spend the remainder of the week preparing the food, weighing it, inspecting it, sorting it into groups, and making sure it is stored safely according to its needs. Families and individuals who qualify to use the pantry’s services are then able to visit on Thursday or Friday, when, based on family size, they can select from a variety of meats,
produce, canned goods, milk, yogurt, healthy snacks and more.
“Each family or individual is given a shopping cart with a number on the front of it that signifies how many people are in their family. Then they’re able to select a certain quantity of food from each section based on their family size,” Hammonds said. “An average family of three will walk away with approximately 65 to 70 pounds of food, and about 20 to 30 pounds of that will be fresh produce.”
People qualify to receive food from the pantry based on two things: their place of residence and their income.
“You can just show up, but you do have to be qualified. So our two main qualifications are where they live – they must live in Colonial Heights or [in] a small section of South Chesterfield, in zip code 23803,” said Hammonds. “So we serve a rather small area, although that area has about 12 percent food insecurity. It’s more than one out of ten that you would meet on the street that needs us.”
Individuals who wish to use the food pantry’s services also must show proof of income.
“So they have to qualify where they live and they have to qualify income. We won’t serve anyone who doesn’t meet a 200 percent federal poverty level,” Hammonds said. “If their income is disability or food stamps, that’s really easy to document because the government or the Department of Social Services actually gives them the document that tells us exactly what we need to know, which is their household income. But if they have working members of the household, we ask to see pay stubs. We don’t keep those, but we document what they make.”
“And if a family were to come in new tonight, we’ll interview them right on the spot, and we’ll serve them, but then we’ll qualify them long-term when they show us all of the information that qualifies them,” he added. “Those who don’t qualify, we refer them to financial aid services and other partners. We partner with a few people, like the Salvation Army in Petersburg and Pathways in Petersburg. Both offer financial assistance/management programs.”
In addition to their FeedMore and grocery store pickups, the pantry gratefully accepts donations from the community in the form of non-perishable food items and fresh produce, including healthy, low-sodium, low-sugar items such as beans, canned tuna in water, peanut butter, soup, vegetables, pasta, pasta sauce, cereal, oatmeal and other whole grains, canned fruit, canned meats, baby food, and baby formula.
The pantry also accepts fresh items from donors’ home gardens, as well as personal hygiene items including diapers, baby wipes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, deodorant, combs, brushes, soap, shampoo, conditioner or feminine products.
The pantry also accepts donations in the form of cash or credit/debit card payments, which can be made on their website at chfoodpantry.org.
“The Colonial Heights Food Pantry is able to use each dollar given to us much wiser and much more fully than you can do when you purchase items to give to us. In other words,your dollar stretches quite a bit as we purchase foods from our primary partner, FeedMore, at very low costs,” the pantry’s website reads.
Donations can be dropped off any weekday at the Colonial Heights Food Pantry, located at 530 Southpark Boulevard. Office hours are MondayWednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and ThursdayFriday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Distribution hours are Thursday, 6-8 p.m., and Friday, 12-2 p.m.
Kelsey Reichenberg may be reached at kreichenberg@ progress-index.com or 804-722-5109.
Fort Lee soldier Danny Johnson helps Colonial Heights Food Pantry recipients unload their groceries at their vehicles Thursday, April 5.