Now in its 40th year of service, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore remains committed to ending hunger today for the people we serve. Over the past four decades, our organization has evolved and launched innovative ways to meet the needs of our community. The way we serve today may look different than the way we served then, but the vision of a hunger-free community remains the same. The Foodbank’s second leader, Joanne Rovner (formerly Batson) looks back with us to share challenges and opportunities experienced during her tenure.
Joanne Rovner (formerly Batson)
Most difficult challenges you faced? When I came in, we were over a million dollars in debt. My predecessor was right there from the beginning, so she took it from a grassroots effort to move things along. We were able to not only raise money to pay that debt off but also do a lot of improvements to both locations.
What were some of your greatest opportunities? To see the number of volunteers we had, people from all walks of life who were so dedicated to helping other people—it made me a better person to be around people who were so wonderful and good.
What were some of the greatest needs? After 2008 when the economy hit the dirt, people had lost their jobs and were living off their savings. One day, I was in the front office, and a man came in the door very nicely dressed. Frankly, I thought he was bringing a check to donate. I went up to him, and he broke down. He said, “This is the first time in my life I’ve needed your help, and I’ve got to get some food to feed my children.” It just tore me up as it would anybody.
What were your greatest sources of food and fund contributions? Funding was everything from a lady who lived alone and stroked checks for six or more figures to many corporations that had the right leadership to understand that they were better off if their community was better off. I also introduced mass direct mail to the Foodbank and the Virginia Federation members. It was key to us raising the funds we needed along with in-person donor solicitations.
What misconceptions related to hunger existed then? The naysayers, the ones who said things could change if people would just get jobs. I’d say not if you’re third generation poverty. It’s almost like the conspiracy theories. That was one of the good things too, though, to be able to educate people.