The Chesterfield Food Bank is supporting families hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that has developed with massive store closings and layoffs. Already feeding more than 16,000 Chesterfield residents in need; the food bank has registered nearly 5,000 new clients in the last six weeks.
“It was a bit overwhelming at first,” executive director Kim Hill said. “But my team was quick to respond to the challenge and set new procedures and programs in place.” She said that with safety in mind, the food bank “immediately” began a “protocol” involving hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks.
“We were trying to accomplish our goal with a minimum amount of contact and respect for one another.” Hill said. “As a result, we quickly moved to a drive-thru distribution procedure.”
Clients normally park on the CFB property and come in to pick up a grocery cart full of food. At this time, cars drive in and pick up bags of food from a volunteer in the parking lot. Hill said the new routine is working well except for the long line of cars on the highway waiting for pickup. It helps no one to show up early thinking more food or a better choice of food is the result. All carts are roughly the same. The volume does not diminish as the number of people come in.
“VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) and the police department have been helping us manage the distribution on Friday nights,” said CFB office manager Kim Piper, who feels certain they will come up with the best solution. “We have had a terrific response from the community.”
When many of the senior volunteers became concerned about their health and stayed home, Piper worried about the shortage at first. But teachers began arriving to help and took their place of those who had to leave.
Piper said that the volunteers split into teams, one arriving Monday through Wednesday, the others Thursday through Saturday.
“Other groups have helped in significant ways too,” Piper said. “Servpro sent us volunteers. Shoney’s, Cicis, and Starbucks have given us food. And Papa John’s Pizza brought lunch for the staff and volunteers.”
Grocery stores and vendors have always been generous with donations of food, but under the current situation, donations from these sources have been cut in half. The food bank has always used Feedmore as their primary source for purchasing now, it will continue to do so.
“We are able to purchase food at cents on the dollar through Feedmore,” Piper said. “And we will definitely have to purchase more food due to the circumstances.” The prospect of purchasing more food at a time when donations are down was concerning, but online donations have been very generous since the COVID-19 virus crisis began.
“We are so grateful for the generosity of so many,” Piper said, but we will need more donations to cover the expected costs of serving all of the clients we now serve.” A grocery cart of food is given to families who qualify once a month with an average of about 130 pounds of food in the cart. Seniors who qualify can pick up food twice a month. During this crisis, families can pick up food twice a month too. All clients must register at the office and update their statuses at each distribution pick up.
The food bank has also taken on the task of helping feed school children who were on the free or reduced lunch programs at their schools.
“We started with 10 breakfast and 10 lunch meals (two meals a day for five days), but that number will go to 12 starting next week,” Piper said. “We have already enrolled 1,430 children for this program and served 11,430 meals.” Families can register for the food bank free lunch program at the office on Iron Bridge Road.
Shipping and receiving clerk Hillary Langlois is glad to be helping others at such a critical time. “I enjoy how much good my job does for other people,” said Langlois. “I feel like God has given me an opportunity to serve, and I am thankful for it.”
“We’ve had a tremendous increase in the number of people we serve,” Hill said. “But our community is working together for the same goal of meeting the needs of families in Chesterfield. We have to work together to be successful.”