Empowerment Through Food
Danielle arrives at her home and is greeted by her four children. The kids are delighted to discover that their mom has brought home fresh ingredients for a healthy dinner, plus a package of strawberries, which they open and begin eating immediately. “They eat really well,” Danielle says. “They like fruits and vegetables — and vegetables are expensive.”
Often, Danielle faces a choice between buying groceries and paying for rent. She visits food pantries when they need it, receives SNAP benefits and carefully plans meals to make funds last longer, but with four children in the house, having enough to eat is a struggle.
For Danielle, finding the time to prepare meals is also challenging. Today, she has worked midnight to 6 a.m. providing in-home hospice care. Then from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., she participated in training to earn a certification for maritime welding. “Any time you’re working, taking care of kids and going to school, it’s going to be tough, so you just have to make the best of it,” she says.
Ever since taking a shop class in high school, Danielle has wanted to weld. “I always loved it, but it was never really an option,” she says. “Women didn’t weld.” Instead, she pursued a career in retail management. “I had my life together,” she describes. But then things changed.
Less than a year ago, Danielle was a victim in a domestic violence dispute and made the decision to flee with her four kids in the middle of the night. With no resources or financial stability, their family was homeless. Without a place to leave her kids during the day, she was forced to quit her job.
“Everything kind of fell apart,” she says.
Then Danielle discovered Women in Skilled Careers (WISC), a 12-week program launched through Hampton Roads Workforce Council’s (HRWC) Virginia Career Works. The purpose of WISC is to create a pipeline of skilled workers for the ship repair industry by targeting an under-recruited population: women, specifically those who have received services for issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking, homelessness and poverty.
Now Danielle is in a cohort with seven other women who are earning their certification for maritime welding. “I can’t wait to tell my kids when they see a huge ship, ‘That’s what Mommy does. I fix those. I make a difference,’” she says.
As Danielle works toward total self-sufficiency to provide for her family, the Foodbank alleviates some of the worry associated with not having enough to eat. Through funding from Feeding America, we have partnered with Virginia Career Works to offer SNAP outreach and nutrition education and distribute a weekly bag of food to individuals in the cohort. This way, they can focus more on their training and less on providing food for their families.
Inside the weekly bags are nutritious foods (fresh produce, frozen meats and shelf stable items) that can be easily incorporated to create a meal, along with breakfasts and healthy snacks. Danielle says that receiving the bags puts her mind at ease because it’s one day of the week that she doesn’t have to worry about how she will feed her kids. “It’s peace of mind knowing that it’s one more day where everybody is taken care of,” she says. “The peace of mind is priceless.”
Dear Friend of the Foodbank,
Spring reminds us of a new beginning, an opportunity to rethink and reimagine. We have been doing a lot of imagining lately as we consider ways our community is changing around us and the ways we’re growing in order to best serve our neighbors in need.
The Foodbank is committed to meeting the needs of our neighbors holistically. We can provide meals to cease hunger in the short-term, but there are many layers contributing to food insecurity: barriers related to affordable housing, jobs, financial literacy, higher education and healthcare. Our work is evolving to focus on addressing the root causes and consequences of food insecurity.
In our cover story, you learned how the Foodbank has joined forces with partners in workforce development to help individuals like Danielle concentrate on advancing her career by alleviating stress about feeding her family. Throughout this newsletter, you’ll discover our transformational endeavors that extend far beyond feeding people experiencing food insecurity. We’ve partnered with Tidewater Community College in an effort to eliminate food insecurity on campuses in Norfolk and Portsmouth. We’re launching more Healthy Food Pantries to combat health concerns. We’re expanding our Healthy School Market Program to not only distribute fresh fruits and vegetables but to provide health and nutrition education. We’re focusing our efforts in the rural parts of our service area to provide reliable access to food in Western Tidewater.
None of these achievements would be possible without your continued support. Because of your financial contributions, food donations, volunteerism and advocacy initiatives, we can imagine ways to move individuals toward self-sufficiency. We chose the theme Growing Together in our FY19 Annual Report because it takes a group, a community, a village, to make a difference.
However, our work is not done yet. We must continue to collaborate with organizations and community partners to meet the needs of our clients on a deeper level. In the coming months, we’ll be creating a new Strategic Plan in which we’ll unveil innovative methods to addressing the root causes of food insecurity and ending hunger in our community for good. A hunger-free community — just imagine that.
Together, we can solve hunger.
Ruth Jones Nichols, Ph.D. Kevin X. Jones.
President & CEO Chair, Board of Directors
Apple Corps Leaders Program is a fellowship initiative designed to provide service opportunities for individuals who are passionate about leading the effort to eliminate hunger in our community. Apple Corps Fellows will complete short-term service projects to help fill gaps for unmet needs within the organization. Projects can include creating and analyzing performance dashboards; designing and testing fundraising, advocacy or marketing campaigns; establishing administrative infrastructure for departments or teams; and implementing organizational culture and employee engagement initiatives. Ideal candidates are individuals with past professional experiences who can serve as skills-based volunteers, college students seeking to gain skills in leadership and project management and SNAP beneficiaries who desire on-the-job training that will create career pathways for economic mobility. Visit foodbankonline.org/about-us/careers for a listing of three-, six-, or nine-month service opportunities.
This year, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is due for reauthorization. Although the current law, the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” (Public Law 111-296), expired on September 30, 2015, the programs continue to operate. Congress has an important opportunity to improve the health of millions of our nation’s children by passing a strong reauthorization that protects and strengthens the child nutrition programs.
Contact your representative and let him/her know that we need Congress to enact a bill that ensures that the child nutrition programs continue reducing childhood hunger, decreasing childhood overweight and obesity, improving child nutrition and wellness, enhancing child development and school readiness, and supporting academic achievement.
Hunger and Food Insecurity: The Root Causes and Consequences
In fall 2019, the Foodbank released a report, “Hunger and Food Insecurity: The Root Causes and Consequences,” offering findings from a research study exploring individual and systems-level root causes of hunger and food insecurity.
In addition, the report features vital information guiding the evolution of our work, including the number of meals missing from the tables of our neighbors in need; illustrations to show the ways in which food insecurity intersects with income, race/ethnicity and homeownership status; an overview of federal legislation impacting our work; and profiles of individuals who have experienced hunger and food insecurity. We encourage you to read and share the report by visiting bit.ly/rootcausesreport.
Through research completed as part of the Foodbank’ s Root Causes Research Study, we learned that a barrier to economic self-sufficiency is often lack of access to financial literacy. The Foodbank has partnered with Bank On Hampton Roads to offer classes through a 10-month program offering education and support needed to launch financial plans. Bank On teaches aspects including increasing income, growing savings, reducing debt, building credit score and protecting assets.
Participants attend monthly classes that provide strategies for overcoming paycheck to-paycheck living and meet with a personal finance coach to build a financial plan centered on their goals and dreams. Classes begin in January, April and September and are free for participants. Learn more at BankOnHR.org.
Paving Pathways to Learning
Information from Feeding America’s Hunger Study shows that 31 percent of food-insecure households choose between pursuing higher education and putting food on the table. The need is often greater among 2-year college students.
Dr. Michelle Woodhouse, provost at Tidewater Community College’s (TCC) Portsmouth Campus, sees this firsthand and says that food insecurity among college students is not a new issue. “While I see that this is a new national topic, it is not new in the population that I serve,” she says. “I’m glad it’s at the forefront now and people see the relevance in it.”
While there’s no exact information available on the percentage of TCC students experiencing food insecurity, Woodhouse estimates that 70 percent of students on the TCC Portsmouth Campus receives financial aid. “I’m going to equate that percent to those who have some sense of food insecurity,” she says. “That means their wages are low, their living conditions are low. Many of them take the financial aid money just to live, to keep a roof over their head.”
Because the Foodbank is committed to addressing food insecurity as a barrier to higher education, we partnered with TCC to determine ways to improve academic outcomes among students who are hungry. At the Foodbank’s September event, Addressing the Root Causes of Hunger and Food Insecurity: A Community Leader and Stakeholder Conversation, TowneBank presented a $250,000 check to the Foodbank in support of our partnership with TCC to establish a Campus-Based Pantry available to all TCC students.
Starting in November, as a preliminary step to addressing food insecurity among students, the Foodbank worked with TCC to host a series of month Pop-Up Pantries at both the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses. At the events, students were invited to take a selection of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as shelfstable items. November’s Pop-Up Pantry included turkeys for students to share with their families for Thanksgiving.
Once students became familiar with the concept, many opted to get involved by volunteering during the times the Pop-Up Pantries were held. They distributed fresh produce to their peers and helped connect them with Link2Feed, an online portal that reduces barriers, streamlines processes and improves distribution for individuals receiving food.
Through our goal to end the line of individuals receiving food assistance, the Foodbank is working to eliminate food insecurity among college students so that they can focus on entering or advancing in their careers. Providing fresh, healthy options to propel the minds of tomorrow is one step on the path to success that makes the journey more achievable.
A Holistic Approach to Health
When most individuals are ill, they visit a healthcare provider. But what happens when they don’t have the funds to seek help or lack transportation to get to the nearest provider? This is common in areas of concentrated poverty, where certain populations are disproportionately impacted by negative health outcomes. The Foodbank is addressing these disparities by expanding the Healthy Food Pantry Program (HFPP) in food deserts—areas where access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods is limited—and areas that have high levels of food insecurity.
Healthy Food Pantries aim to holistically address food insecurity and chronic health issues in individuals by distributing fruits and vegetables that are low in sodium, sugar and trans-fat. Through the program, participants struggling with health-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity will receive 50 pounds of healthy, nutritious food per month.
The HFPP is made possible thanks to grant funding from The Sentara Foundation – Hampton Roads and Optima Health, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and Walmart. The first HFPP launched at Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk in June 2019, and two more have recently started—one at Elk’s Lodge through a partnership with Eastern Shore Rural Health System in Onley and one at East End Baptist Church in Suffolk.
Yvonne Green, food pantry director for East End Baptist Church, says that having the HFPP will impact individuals greatly. “They’re going to receive more food, and they will be getting food that will be designated for their specific health problems.” In addition to healthy food distribution, the HFPP offers screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as health and nutrition education. “It’s not just passing the food from my hand to their hand,” Yvonne says. “It’s educating them on what to do with it.”
Addressing Rural Hunger
In one elementary school in Southampton County, food is rarely left over on cafeteria trays. “At this school, the children clean their plates,” says Angela Sproul, food services supervisor for Southampton County Public Schools. The kids are simply that hungry. There are seven schools in the Southampton County district serving 2,700 children, many of whom are classified as living in poverty.
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, there are nearly 4,900 children in Western Tidewater experiencing food insecurity. The rural region is comprised of the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton. It’s critical for these children to receive food at school, but this becomes difficult during summer months.
Aside from financial challenges, one of the largest barriers to accessing food in Southampton County is physically getting there. “We have a bus service that runs, but it’s very sporadic,” Angela says. There are only three major grocery stores spread throughout the county, in addition to a handful of dollar stores. In rural and low-income communities, dollar stores may be viewed as an asset. Without access to fresh produce and meats, however, individuals are limited to less healthy options.
When the Foodbank received a $300,000 three-year grant from Obici Healthcare Foundation to establish a Community Produce Hub in Western Tidewater, it was a beacon of hope. “It opened our eyes to opportunities within the school system, as well as ways we could partner in the community,” Angela says. “The wheels just started turning.”
The grant has allowed us to bring fresh produce to residents in Western Tidewater through Mobile Pantries and build capacity for our Partner Agencies in the region, supplying them with much-needed upgrades such as shelving and freezers.
The best, however, is yet to come. The Western Tidewater Community Produce Hub will provide regular, convenient access to fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and shelf-stable items to residents in Western Tidewater, as well as to our Partner Agencies. In addition to supplying more food options, the Produce Hub will promote healthy eating. “People who eat better and who are more educated about what they put into their bodies are affecting their overall attitudes, their health, everything,” Angela says. “Healthy eating raises morale and makes for a better community outlook.”