‘Ready To Deliver’
Nationwide Church Effort Sends 40,000 Pounds Of Donations To Food Bank
By KATHLEEN SHAW
Daily News-Record 4/29/20
For the average family, pasta, canned vegetables and cartons of dairy are timeless shopping list staples kept tucked away on reserve for a go-to lunch or dinner. On food bank shelves, the nutritious and nonperishable goods are priceless supplies to feed those struggling to put a full meal on the table.
On Tuesday morning as the sun crept over the mountains, a 53-foot tractor-trailer pulled into Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, delivering more than 20 pallets of shelf-stable food. Hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, the edible cargo arrived as half of a 40,000-pound shipment from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to aid Virginia households struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seth Stratford, second counselor in the Waynesboro Virginia Stake, is a local LDS leader in the Harrisonburg Ward who represented the church alongside his wife, Megan, on Tuesday while food was unloaded from the trucks.
“Part of the mission of the church is to help those in need,” he said. “We’re prepared to do that whenever it happens. Whether it’s from natural disasters or man-made disasters, the church is ready to deliver.”
Greg Knight, the food sourcing manager at BRAFB, oversees the pallets of products coming in and out of the warehouse each day. He said produce arriving from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program is reliable, but food donations from stores is at a low since shelves are constantly being emptied by bulk shoppers, so community donations are invaluable.
According to BRAFB’s website, the central facility in Verona and three branch locations provided food for about 1.8 million meals to an average of 103,500 people across 25 counties and eight cities in central and western Virginia before COVID-19.
Knight said BRAFB distributes 2 million pounds of food per month in an average year, with stocked foods out the door at a two-week turnover rate. The demand is increasing across the state as unemployment rises. While annual pantry collections have continued, Knight said inflow from market donation programs are dramatically suffering to contrast the rising outflow pace.
“It’s always critical but now it’s really important. … The supply chain eight weeks ago was much more predictable,” Knight said. “There were families that were already in a deep need and are now in a deeper need. … Having this is going to be our good, reliable source of food.”
One pillar of the LDS church is to maintain a welfare system of support to care for those in need, and the donated food comes from church members across the country who fast for two meals each month and donate funds in honor of the hungry to the church. Two trucks full of food arrived from Salt Lake City on Tuesday, with another deliver expected on May 13.
Megan Stratford is a job coach and teaching assistant at Blue Ridge Community College and Rockingham County Public Schools for students with learning disabilities, and she routinely volunteers at the food bank with students to instruct career and independent living skills. As someone experienced with spending hours packing backpacks with meals, she said having her church contribute donations to the bank was intimately gratifying.
“We’re working there, have students there. … It’s an honor to know the church is contributing to the needs of people in the area,” Megan Stratford said.
According to Michael McCleve, communications director of the Waynesboro Virginia Stake, more than 400,000 pounds of food will be delivered to food banks across the mid-Atlantic within two months from LDS warehouses.
Tuesday’s delivery was primarily composed of canned goods, and May 13’s delivery will include half canned and half dry goods.
Abena Foreman-Trice, media and community relations manager for the food bank, said help from individuals, local groups and national organizations to support the food bank with additional food, volunteering and monetary donations has increased.
“This period of time is one where we’re seeing longstanding and new relationships come through for us,” she said. “It’s hard to know what the future holds in terms of increased demand. … The gratitude we have for our longstanding community partners for ensuring we have enough for those who need to eat… that’s what one of the biggest things we like to do and express.”