by Gene Marrano
The war against hunger is not over in southwestern Virginia. “Far from it,” said Pamela Irvine, the president and CEO for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. Irvine made those remarks earlier this week as Feeding America (formerly the Second Harvest Food Bank) recognized local corporations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty over the past year. All have supplied non-perishable foods and manpower to the Salem distribution warehouse, which coordinates its efforts with satellite locations in Southside and Abingdon. It also serves the Alleghany Highlands and the New River Valley.
Thirteen members of Project 360 were cited on Monday with awards and gratitude, for work in four critical areas: providing volunteers to work at the food bank warehouse, a minimum $10,000 donation, food drives/donations and advocacy for the food bank’s mission. Irvine noted that corporations participating in the Project 360 program have reported increased employee morale.
Among the local companies hailed as Project 360 partners were Kroger, Food Lion, United Health Care, Advance Auto, General Electric, SunTrust Bank, Walmart and Wells Fargo. “Once people understood the critical need for hunger relief efforts in Southwest Virginia and after they volunteered for a few hours at the food bank, they often wanted to do more,” said Irvine. The hope now is that the original Project 360 group will serve as an example to other corporations and businesses, encouraging more involvement.
Brian Bowen, district manager for Food Lion, said the grocer’s involvement was all about “helping local families put food on the table.” Food Lion locally has donated almost 500,000 pounds of food over the past few years.
George Belanger, who works as a manager in the controls division at the General Electric plant in Salem, said employees there were aided by a matching donation from GE corporate. The plant also sponsors a Christmas basket food program and has collaborated with Second Harvest/Feeding America on that since 1981.
Last year the Christmas program purchased and distributed 46,000 pounds of food. “It’s been a real interesting partnership – the program is so important to us,” said Belanger. He would like to see other local businesses get more involved: “knowing that there is that many people in our community [that need help]…and it all stays local. There are so many people that need [help].”
The 50-year-old GE Christmas program – names of the needy come from the League of Older Americans and Roanoke Valley Social Services – is “a real eye-opener,” according to Belanger. “We’re already in the third generation of helping and volunteerism.”
Irvine has been with the Food Bank for 31 years. About 500 companies are involved with Feeding America Southwest Virginia (faswva.org) now, but not at the Project 360 level. “We needed an opportunity to get them engaged in all four aspects of what it really takes to solve hunger in our community,” said Irvine.
Being involved includes advocacy during Hunger Awareness Month, which takes place this September. Orange ribbons are encouraged to spread the message about hunger.
26 counties and 10 cities that are mostly rural in the region often struggle with hunger issues, according to Irvine. Who is going hungry has changed somewhat – seniors and the disabled often rely on the food bank because they don’t have enough funds elsewhere to purchase food; the unemployed and underemployed ranks that have swelled in recent years has also led new people to the food bank for the first time. “That individual [seeking assistance] could have worked for many years and is now struggling to find employment,” noted Irvine.
“It’s taken 31 years to build a charitable food distribution and delivery system in southwest Virginia,” said Irvine, who now hopes that efforts like Project 360 will only make that system even stronger.