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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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RACSB Food Donations: “Everybody Came Together”

Food donation during COVID-19
An RACSB volunteer donates food to the needy during COVID-19

RACSB is proud of the community collaboration that got food to those who needed it during the pandemic

When the Kenmore Club—a program of the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board—was forced to close its in-person operations offering psychosocial rehabilitation to individuals with persistent mental illness due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then-director Amy Jindra at first thought it was a brief pause in normal operations.

But from that mid-March day on, as shutdowns across the state and nation became longer-term, Jindra realized that the pandemic would impact not only the mental health needs of her clients, but also their basic need for sustenance.

Under normal operations, the Kenmore Club provides breakfast and lunch to its community members—two meals that would not be served amid the shutdown.

This was just one example of the impact that the shutdown of schools, businesses, nonprofits and other groups would have on food access for people in need.

As she looked around the community in spring 2020, Jindra learned that food banks were experiencing shortages, and that Micah Ecumenical Ministries was having to curtail its meals—a move that would impact many of Kenmore Club’s downtown members.

“All of a sudden, three meals a day are gone,” she said.

By late March, it was clear that business as usual wasn’t going to resume any time soon. The Kenmore Club began packing lunches out of its commercial kitchen and driving them to members throughout Planning District 16, which includes Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline and King George counties.

“It meant almost half of our workday was dropping food off,” she said.

Other community groups, such as the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank and S.E.R.V.E. in Stafford County, began to report shortages and a downturn in donations.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jindra had heard that the church had a supply of food from its farms and dairies that it was making available to groups around the country in need. She contacted her bishop and asked if it would be possible to get donations for the Fredericksburg area.

“Within a week, I was being contacted by our church’s distribution center, and they told me they could bring 37,000 pounds of canned goods,” Jindra said.

As she quickly learned, it takes a team effort to distribute that much food to those who need it.

The first need was a loading dock equipped with forklift operators where a giant tractor-trailer could unload the 17 pallets of food bound for Fredericksburg.

A colleague reached out to HDT Global, which offered the use of its Spotsylvania County warehouse and loading dock.

“They had a great space and cleared it all out for us and were able to have forklift drivers unload the food,” Jindra said.

The challenge of how to get the food to those who needed it brought Jindra in touch with a wide array of groups in the Fredericksburg region who were seeing the need first-hand.

Working with Elizabeth Borst of Virginia Community Food Connections, a group that coordinates food needs and resources through the Fredericksburg Food Access Forum, Jindra became aware of a much larger network of groups that serve people’s needs.

During this time when financial stress was hitting households as businesses cut workers and paychecks disappeared, many of these groups collaborated to find the best routes to get the food to individuals—even if it meant bypassing their specific organization.

“Everyone’s focus was on getting it to people, not to a specific group,” she said.

In all, the food ended up going to 18 different organizations, representing a broad array of nonprofits serving those in need in the Fredericksburg community.

Jindra enlisted her colleagues at RACSB and family members to help coordinate the distribution, dividing the food up and making sure groups got a good selection of the different items—from beef stew to tomato sauce to sugar and flour—to help people build complete meals.

Volunteers organized the food and scheduled organizations’ time slots to allow for social distancing, and within two days, all 37,000 pounds had been sent out in various directions across the Fredericksburg region.

“We realized we had put more than 18 tons of food out in the community,” Jindra said. “We were smiling and happy. It was a neat thing.”

The collaboration necessary to distribute that amount of food continued to pay dividends as the pandemic wore on.

Several of RACSB’s programs became distribution points when Virginia Community Food Connections helped the Table at St. George’s Episcopal Church distribute crates of locally grown fresh produce throughout the community.

Borst said Virginia Community Food Connections got to work with many new partners as it helped The Table distribute fresh produce at 10 different sites around the region.

She hopes the collaboration can be a catalyst to help the Fredericksburg region build a stronger safety net for combatting food insecurity going forward.

“How, as a community, do we look around and say, ‘Where are the needs and how do we connect them?’” she said.

Jindra, who has since transitioned to lead RACSB’s Program for Assertive Community Treatment, said it was fulfilling to see different community groups come together.

“It was an interesting time when thinking outside of the box had to happen,” she said.

The following organizations received part of the 37,000-pound food donation brought to Fredericksburg in April by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

  • E.R.V.E. Inc., of Stafford County
  • Fredericksburg United Methodist Church
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension of Caroline County
  • Community Ministry Center of Fredericksburg
  • Micah Ecumenical Ministries
  • Fredericksburg Area HIV/Aids Support Services
  • Healthy Generations Area Agency on Aging
  • King George Public Schools
  • Beth Shalom Temple
  • RACSB Programs:
    • Mental Health Case Management
    • Parent Education Infant Development
    • Healthy Families
    • Mental Health Residential Services
    • Kenmore Club
    • Child and Adolescent Services
    • Program for Assertive Community Treatment
Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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