( 2 Votes )

Jolie Allen, Travis Allen and Hunter Davis prepare boxes of food to be distributed at Antioch Baptist Church.When Scottsville’s IGA closed nearly two years ago, Dewane Beatley lost her job and the weekly paycheck she depended on. Unable to find work and facing mounting bills, Beatley began attending free monthly lunches at Antioch Baptist Church, courtesy of Fives Loaves, Two Fish Ministry, and taking home boxes of groceries from the church’s food pantry.

For Beatley, the ministry and church’s help is vital, enabling her to stretch her monthly food budget. Though she receives federal aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), her cupboard is sparsely stocked after just a few weeks.

Beatley’s trips to Antioch on the fourth Saturday of each month have become a timely diversion – a place where she finds food, friends and faith. “They have been with me when I was really down,” she said. “Food stamps don’t cover all the needs. They fall short near the end of the month. But, for me, it’s about the fellowship too. I eat my meals in and really enjoy talking with everyone. It has really been a godsend.”

More Seek Help

While many Fluvanna residents will sit down to a bountiful Thanksgiving table, Beatley and a growing number of Fluvanna County residents will be seeking food assistance, a consequence of a deep, nationwide recession and sluggish economic recovery. According to Susan Muir, director of Fluvanna’s Department of Social Services, the county has seen a significant increase in the demand for food aid since 2007. From August of ’09 to August of ’10 alone, the number of residents enrolled in SNAP soared nearly 30 percent. In the 2009 fiscal year, Fluvanna issued nearly $1.3 million in SNAP benefits. That number rose to over $2.1 million in FY 2010.

Government food programs aren’t designed to cover every need nor can they reach every resident. In Fluvanna, filling the widening gaps in the food supply falls mainly to non-profits, community groups and churches-like Five Loaves, Two Fish Ministry and the Antioch Food Pantry-who are scrambling to keep pace with the burgeoning need for aid and depend largely on the generosity of local volunteers and donors to keep their doors open. “[What these groups and individuals do] is very important in the county because we don’t have tremendous resources. It’s very much a one-on-one effort and it has an immediate impact,” Muir said of local outreach efforts.

Food Pantry

Muir and her staff routinely refer clients to a handful of area feeding operations. One of the most prominent is the Monticello Area Community Action Agency’s (MACAA) food pantry at the Carysbrook Center. There, Rural Outreach Coordinator Bertha Armstrong and local volunteers distribute everything from cereal to frozen poultry to nearly 100 families each month, up from about 45 just a few years ago. “The food pantry has always been well-used. But, in recent years, the need has been tremendous,” Armstrong said, noting that MACAA, a Charlottesville-based organization dedicated to eradicating poverty, provides most clients with food once a month and the allotments last a week to two weeks.

Unlike large-scale feeding operations in more populous neighboring counties like Albemarle and Louisa, MACAA’s pantry is only minimally supported by low-cost USDA foods via its affiliation with the Blue Ridge Food Bank in Charlottesville. To keep the pantry stocked, Armstrong primarily relies on her partners at the Fluvanna Christian Service Society, a network of churches, community groups and concerned citizens who round up donations across the county. “We just stick to it and try to minister to people’s needs. We try to never turn anyone away. The community has been wonderful about donating. Every time the pantry gets low, a car will pull up with a trunk full of food,” FCSS Director Brian Orahood said, adding that the society also offers emergency assistance services and hosts an annual Christmas party for low-income families.

Orahood said that many supporters donate food through their churches or contribute to drives coordinated by schools or local groups like the Boy Scouts. Fluvanna County Public Schools annually holds a holiday food drive that, in part, benefits the MACAA pantry. This year, Central Elementary School set a goal of collecting 2,600 non-perishable food items, placing grocery carts around the school to remind students to give and awarding a party to the class that contributes the most items, according to administrator Jennifer Valentine.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sunday

At Lake Christian Church, where Orahood is lead pastor, November 29 has been dubbed “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sunday.” Congregants are asked to bring jars of the nutritious staples to church for distribution through the pantry. Donors can even visit E.W. James grocery store and purchase meat at wholesale price for the MACAA operation.

“The Fluvanna Christian Service Society was organized in the county years ago and it started on a small-scale. Eventually, the churches decided to focus primarily on food. It’s really one of the best things that could have happened in Fluvanna County,” Armstrong said. “These people care about what’s happening here. They make sure the pantry is stocked.”

Five Loaves, Two Fish

At Antioch Baptist Church, volunteers have organized similar programs. Church member Janet Pace helped start Five Loaves, Two Fish Ministry a couple years ago in response to the tough economic times. The ministry, which cooks and serves its monthly lunches at Antioch, served just a few dozen residents at its inception.

However, last month, volunteers – many from the local power plant, Tenaska – gathered at the church on Thursday night to cut meat and vegetables for heaping pots of beef stew. When the stew was served on Saturday, nearly 250 people showed up. “So many people came that we ran out of food,” Pace said. She adds that Antioch’s pantry, open during the lunches, gave out about ten food boxes a month several years ago. In October, they distributed about 100.

Pace and other volunteers are hustling to keep up. Tenaska employees not only pitch in at lunch, the company occasionally covers its cost and recently donated a heavy-duty refrigerator for the church’s kitchen. Volunteers frequently travel to Charlottesville’s Jefferson Food Bank to make purchases for the pantry. One church member loads her car with bread and baked goods from grocery stores and bakeries, which are given away at the lunches. “It’s quite an undertaking,” Pace said. “People lug all this food to the church, pack and distribute it. But the volunteers get addicted to it. They know folks need help.”

Pace said that the ministry and pantry’s patrons come from all walks of life. Many, like Beatley, have lost their jobs. Some, until very recently, had never needed food assistance. “When we started [the ministry] two years ago, people said that we wouldn’t get country people to come for the meals. But it’s not just people in the cities that need help. It’s people in rural areas too. This has really taken off,” Pace said. She notes that the pantry also delivers groceries to homebound residents.

Homebound

The Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) and Fluvanna County’s Meals on Wheels play a critical role in feeding the homebound as well. Meals on Wheels serve the elderly and disabled via home-delivered hot and frozen meals and is relatively new to the county, running its first routes in 2008. But the group has already made an impact.

Funded largely through grants and local donors and staffed by volunteers, Meals on Wheels runs six routes and serves 50 clients, up from 30 a year ago. The group recently added a new route that reaches the far western portion of the county. “We’ve seen a significant increase in demand just over the last year,” Lisa Himes, Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator, said. “Part of this increase relates to the economic downturn but our mission is two-fold. We not only serve those who can’t afford meals but those who can’t prepare their own meals because of a disability.”

Meals on Wheels, in Himes view, is particularly valuable for Fluvanna because many residents are isolated so the organization serves an important social function. “Many of our clients are home alone all day and it’s really a relief for them and their families to know that someone will be stopping by,” Himes said.

JABA, a Charlottesville nonprofit primarily serving income-eligible older residents, crisscrosses the county delivering meals, distributes food bags twice a month to about 45 households and serves two hot lunches per week at its community center in Fork Union. According to Martha Williams, JABA’s Manager of Volunteer Services and Talia Kinney, Community Center Manager, the organization depends heavily on volunteers to keep its operation afloat. For the Food Bag Program, the Knights of Columbus pick up the bags, packed by volunteers in Charlottesville and filled with everything from canned goods to local produce, and deliver them to the community center for distribution.

Kinney notes that lately JABA’s community center lunches have seen an increase in attendance yet she worries about the future of the group’s outreach. “The county cut our budget by five percent so our food programs are going to take a hit,” she said. “It’s really essential that community groups work together and form partnerships [to meet growing needs].”

Kinney isn’t alone in her concerns. Local groups are struggling to bring in cash contributions though food donations remain consistent. Fives Loaves, Two Fish Ministry recently held a yard sale to help replenish its coffers. Meals on Wheels, which has been forced to cap its number of non-paying clients, organized a craft bazaar and chili dinner in October and FCSS is planning a Christian music concert on December 10 in part to fund the hundreds of holiday food baskets it distributes with MACAA. “We spend a great deal of time organizing fundraisers. It’s a struggle raising money these days because of the tough economy. Many businesses just don’t have anything to give,” Himes of Meals on Wheels said.

How to Donate

Fluvanna Christian Service Society (FCSS)
FCSS accepts donations of non-perishable food items for MACAA’s pantry. Drop off donations at the Carysbrook Center, along Rt. 15 south of Palmyra, or Lake Christian Church, 733 South Boston Rd, Palmyra. The group also accepts cash donations. Call (434) 589-9280 for more information or simply send a check to FCSS, P.O. Box 411, Palmyra, VA 22963.

Monticello Area Community Action Agency
MACAA accepts both cash and non-perishable food donations at the Carysbrook Center. Contact Rural Outreach Coordinator Bertha Armstrong at (434) 842-2521 for more information or visit www.macaa.org. The group also operates a thrift store at the center, which accepts gently used clothing and other items. All proceeds benefit Fluvanna County outreach efforts.

Fluvanna County Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels accepts financial contributions. Visit www.mealsonwheelsfluvanna.org or call (434) 589-1685 for more information. Checks may be mailed to Meals on Wheels, 105 Crofton Plaza, Suite 8, Palmyra, VA 22963.

Fives Loaves, Two Fish Ministry
Five Loaves, Two Fish Ministry accepts cash donations via Antioch Baptist Church. Call the church at (434) 286-6315 for more information.

Antioch Baptist Church Food Pantry
Antioch’s Food Pantry accepts cash donations via Antioch Baptist Church. Call the church at (434) 286-6315 for more information. The pantry welcomes in-kind donations as well and is especially in need of personal hygiene products, which are not available at low-cost through food banks. The church is located at 4422 Antioch Rd, Scottsville, VA 24590.

Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA)
JABA accepts donation via telephone, mail and online. Visit www.jabacares.org for more information, call (434) 295-0396 or send a check to JABA Inc. Development Office, 674 Hillsdale Drive, Suite 9, Charlottesville, VA 22901.