In the midst of the pandemic, Jennifer found herself uncertain about where her family’s next meal would come from. After months in the hospital following heart surgery, she had lost her income, apartment, and personal belongings. Jennifer’s sister took her and her children in, but the financial strain caused by the pandemic meant they had to decide whether to keep a roof over their heads or have enough food for their children to eat.
That’s when Jennifer turned to the Chesterfield Food Bank (CFB) for help. Many Richmond-area families like Jennifer’s now rely on CFB as their primary source for food.
The COVID-19 pandemic – with its quarantines, job layoffs, and medical challenges – has created empty pantries across Chesterfield and throughout the Richmond area.
“Last year at this time, we served an average of 10,000 clients each month,” says CFB Executive Director Kim Hill. “Now we have as many as 30,000 clients a month.”
Clients like Jennifer are grateful for the Food Bank’s new initiatives in response to the public health and economic crisis, even though it has meant waiting for hours in lines that run for miles down Route 10 in Chester. But the effort is worth the wait, says the young mother. She takes home a trunk full of fresh produce, dairy and bakery products, meat, and staples after participating in a safe drive-through pick-up at one of CFB’s seven distribution locations.
“Our mission is to fight hunger and empower lives,” says Hill. “And going into the winter months as the public health and economic hardships of the pandemic worsen, we want to bring joy and hope to families – along with the food.”
Chesterfield Food Bank started as a neighborhood mission that was part of Gathering Grounds Ministry in 2010. The outreach grew to include families in Chesterfield and surrounding areas. Though the church disbanded in 2013, CFB has continued to expand.
With many schools closed, this year has presented more challenges. “To think that kids go without eating, it is just heartbreaking,” says Terri Russell, a CFB volunteer. “It is near and dear to my heart to help people in need, especially during this crisis.”
Despite an exponential increase in clients, CFB has seen a 45 percent drop in volunteers, many of whom have stayed away because of concerns about the spread of the virus or because they are now in need themselves. But Russell is not alone. Many dedicated volunteers give their time each day to lift up their neighbors in great need.
Juana Perez, a volunteer with Hispanic/Latinx roots, delivers food to friends and neighbors coping with COVID-19 in her community. She also registers Spanish-speaking clients at food distribution events, making sure they feel welcome.
As important as meeting basic needs is, there’s more to volunteering with CFB than helping families overcome food insecurity. Recently, volunteers gave a client named Mary a cake for her birthday and sang to her while she waited in line during a food distribution. On another occasion, volunteers assisted Tom, who arrived on his bicycle after an accident. They tended to his wounds, packed up his groceries and bicycle, and drove him home to his family. “Countless special moments like these are what the Chesterfield Food Bank is made of,” says Perez.
“There are a lot of people who need help, and because we help, it’s changing things,” says 12-year-old Carter, who volunteers regularly with his family. The organization has volunteers as young as six years old and volunteers well into their eighties. All believe they are bringing more than just food to their neighbors.
“Our volunteers display generosity and compassion through acts of kindness,” says Hill. “That’s how we spread joy during a time of great challenges. Though this winter may be filled with uncertainty and heartache for many local families, the CFB family will continue to work hard to bring food, comfort, and hope to all those we serve.”
Help Restock the Chesterfield Food Bank
Drive-by and drop-off food donation event:
Tuesday, February 9
12211 Ironbridge Rd Chester, Va 23831
9:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m.
For details and a list of needed items, go here.
photos: Courtesy Chesterfield Food Bank