Feed More delivers much more than food
Every week, a tractor-trailer full of Perdue frozen chickens arrives at Feed More headquarters near the Diamond.
“We’re the chicken food bank on the East Coast,” quipped Doug Pick, Feed More’s chief executive officer, adding, “and I get a tractor-trailer load of fresh produce per week.”
Thanks to these truck deliveries and other donations, Feed More typically prepares and delivers 3,500 meals a day, or 20,000 a week. Last year, they delivered 30 million pounds of food. As Pick put it, “We do food logistics with a heart.”
One in eight central Virginians struggles with hunger. As one of the largest food banks in the state, Feed More collects, prepares and distributes food and meals across 34 cities and counties, serving nearly 200,000 people, of whom 50,000 are children.
“In a country of this wealth, like ours, no person should go hungry. Everyone should be eating,” said Pick, a former bank executive who last year was honored as a Richmond person of the year.
During the coronavirus pandemic, requests for help have almost doubled, and Feed More is stepping up its efforts.
“While the future may seem uncertain, one thing is not,” Pick said. “We will continue to be here for our neighbors when they need us most.”
Rising to the challenge
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has put the food bank to the test. Gov. Ralph Northam designated charitable food networks as essential services, so Feed More is even busier than usual.
In March, when emergency food assistance requests escalated, they connected 679 new individuals to a network partner, a 60% jump over February and 84% over January.
With schools closed during the outbreak, Feed More isn’t preparing after-school meals, but their kitchen still produces 2,400 meals each weekday for the clients of Meals on Wheels, a national network that delivers nutritious meals to those in need who cannot leave their homes.
Feed More’s food supply chain is strong. More than 80% of their affiliated agencies are open and serving those in need.
“We are very fortunate,” said Jessica Hickey, marketing and communications manager, referring to continuous donations, including perishable products from shuttered restaurants.
When they put out an early March call for volunteers, more than 600 people responded. In more normal times, Feed More receives 200 to 300 volunteer applications a month on average.
“Everyone’s stepped up. It’s incredible to see the best in our community, people really coming together,” Hickey said.
Of course, drivers have had adjust the way they deliver food. With the Meals on Wheels program, for instance, instead of making daily deliveries on weekdays, they deliver a box of five to 10 frozen meals once a week, being especially careful to execute a “no-contact” delivery.
Meals from scratch, pet food
Feed More receives food donations from corporate, church and other food drives; grocery stores; bakeries; corporate donors; farmers and others. Functioning as a wholesaler and distributor, the nonprofit networks with 300 organizations — such as soup kitchens, churches, the Salvation Army and food pantries — who “grocery shop” at Feed More.
Its “mobile pantry” takes food to underserved communities with limited grocery stores or healthy food options. They even provide pet food.
At Feed More’s 92,000-square-foot main campus, a former tobacco warehouse is used for storage, offices, a temperature-controlled cooler and a state-of-the-art kitchen.
Every weekday, employees and around 40 volunteers prepare fresh-from-scratch meals for Meals on Wheels clients, mostly homebound people and people with disabilities. Many are elderly, socially isolated and unable to shop or cook.
“Meals are the highlight of their day,” Pick said.
Most volunteers are retirees
Volunteers are the backbone of the organization, and 85% of them are over age 50 and retired. As a group they work 150,000 hours a year, preparing and packaging food, organizing delivery routes and loading boxes into vehicles.
“We provide the infrastructure for neighbors to help neighbors,” Pick said. “It makes everyone feel good and take pride in the fact that, with Feed More, you can look locally to feel good.”
One volunteer, Jack Howe, a retired school district superintendent, brings 15 to 30 backpacks to Richmond middle-school children on Thursdays to take home for the weekend.
Before the pandemic, Feed More delivered 2,000 weekend “backpacks” containing six meals for youngsters. In the summer, Feed More provides breakfast and lunch at 50 sites for students who get free or reduced lunches at school.
Howe also delivers Meals on Wheels to south Richmond clients once a week. “One of best parts is whenever they meet me at the door [prior to the pandemic], they have a big smile and friendly greeting,” Howe said. “They are very appreciative. That is why I do it.”
Carlton Weinstein retired from Cigna HealthCare as a mental health counselor in 2016 and signed up with Feed More. Every Wednesday, he’s stationed in the distribution center, where he bags groceries, discards dented cans, checks sell-by dates and loads vans with food.
“I feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Weinstein said. “It feels good knowing this is going to help somebody.”
Betsy Blandford, a retired elementary school teacher, learned about hunger first-hand from her students. “Elementary kids will tell you when they’re hungry,” she said. “Kids get cranky, and soon you find out that they are hungry.”
Every Monday, she and 10 to 30 volunteers pack up almost 1,500 meals for Meals on Wheels deliveries and organize them for special diets, such as clients who cannot chew, are vegetarian or don’t eat pork. “It’s an amazing operation,” she said.
She also takes a laptop to the Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist Church food bank each week to help people with their SNAP applications. (SNAP is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.)
Earlene Turner, a licensed practical nurse retired from Children’s Hospital, delivers meals to homes in Hopewell, Petersburg, Dinwiddie and Prince George on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Turner, who said she would go crazy to just “sit at home,” noted, “Delivering meals is more than food; it’s connecting and helping people overcome isolation.
“I love taking care of babies and the elderly, many of whom are alone. These people can’t go out and do for themselves. They look forward to someone coming in and talking for a few minutes. It is rewarding for both of us.”
To CEO Pick, Feed More’s staff and volunteers, providing people with food is a cause, not a job.
“We’re on this Earth for a short period of time,” Pick said. “Do all you can to fill up your life with growth, and constantly challenge yourself with new opportunities.
“Know that real joy comes in giving to others. Know that you left no growth and no good deeds undone at the end of your time on Earth.”
Feed More needs more Meals on Wheels drivers. To volunteer, email volunteer@FeedMore.org or call (804) 521-2500. To receive food, call Feed More’s Hunger Hotline at (804) 521-2500, x 631.