At its turkey giveaway on Wednesday, the Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula gave out 1,100 birds but couldn't meet the needs of its more than 200 member agencies. This time last year it had 1,400 turkeys to give away.
"We didn't have even a fraction of what we needed. One identified 10 families in need, but we could only give that agency one," said Loretta Jones-Knauth, chief philanthropy officer for the Foodbank. By Monday, she's hoping that donations to the "Mayflower Marathon" at Peninsula Town Center in Hampton this weekend will change that. Her goal is to collect 300 turkeys at the event that runs from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon.
"That's 300 families with children who aren't planning on sitting down to a meal right now," she said. Last year's marathon collected 150,000 pounds of food, which was a drop in donations from 2010. However, last-minute cash donations from two local companies allowed Jones-Knauth to make up the difference by buying food. Each 1.21 pounds of food supplies a meal, she said.
For every dollar given, the Foodbank can leverage $6 in groceries, said Susan Mayo, chief marketing officer for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia in Norfolk. However, it's getting harder to get those returns, according to Jones-Knauth. "We used to be able to get a truckload of food for $1,000. Now, we're lucky to get it for $10,000," she said. She attributed the change to the growth in the secondary market and competition from chains, such as General Dollar, Dollar Tree and Big Lots, and also to producers' ability to project sales three years out, thereby eliminating the surpluses that used to occur.
"We just had the worst quarter, without any inventory on the shelves. I've never seen it this bad," said Jones-Knauth, a 14-year veteran of the Foodbank. At the organization's mid-summer accounting, it had almost 34,000 fewer pounds in donated foods than 2011. Facilities manager Bill Fite agreed that the situation is among the worst he's seen. "We're in dire need. We're really short. It goes out as fast as it comes in. We're surviving on store donations."
To acquire the 1 million pounds of food it doles out each month, the Southeastern Virginia Foodbank relies on a mix of monetary donations, products from food drives, and its "food rescue" program. In the latter, grocery store partners and restaurants donate edible but non-saleable items, said Mayo. Last year, it received 5 million pounds of food from those partnerships, while the Peninsula took in 2.25 million pounds of prepared foods.
Bethel Church in Hampton regularly visits the Foodbank to supply its outreach efforts. Every week it serves dinner to 160 people and delivers bags of food with meat to low-income families. "Every time I go there, by the grace of God I find something," said Jose Rodriguez, pastor of its Spanish ministry. "There's a big need in our community."
At First Baptist Denbigh in Newport News, those needs are growing, according to Mary Spells, mission chairperson. "We have certainly seen an increase in the number of people in need," she said. For a second year, the church will supply Thanksgiving food baskets to 400 people. "I wasn't able to get any poultry from the Foodbank for the baskets. I was only able to get vegetables and spaghetti sauce," she added. "We purchased the rest."
Representatives of both food banks commended community members for their generosity, while pointing to the relentless, ongoing need. For example, Christopher Newport University held a drive last week and contributed 3,000 pounds of food, of which only 700 pounds remains, said Fite.
Community food drives typically pick up during the holidays, but so does the demand. "Children aren't in school and families need to provide for those extra meals. It causes a lot of stress and heartache," said Jones-Knauth. "So many are the working poor, military families who have someone deployed and they're paying child care, or have a medical co-pay. Seniors can't afford fresh fruits and vegetables. They need to be buying healthier things."
Want to donate?
What: Turkeys, chickens, canned meats or fish, other canned goods; cash donations.
Where: Parking lot at Peninsula Town Center to benefit Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula, 2401 Aluminum Ave., Hampton; 757-596-7188; http://www.hrfoodbank.org. Parking lot at Pembroke Mall in Virginia, to benefit Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia; 757-627-6599.
When: 5 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18.
16th annual Mayflower Marathon sponsored by 106.9 The Fox, WAFX and FM99 with live broadcasts around the clock.
• 71,670 residents on the Virginia Peninsula suffer food insecurity
• Of those, 20,000 are children
• Has 228 member agencies
• $1 donation provides three meals
• In fiscal year 2011, distributed more than 9.6 million pounds of food