Started in 2016, Thrive is focused on expanding access to healthy food in the New River Valley (NRV). Over 90 organizations play a direct or indirect role in providing food access, and the initiative has evolved from a series of conversations in 2016 to a formal Food Access Network with a leadership team overseeing progress on a data-informed set of priorities. Food security remains a serious challenge, with 10% of families and one in five children in the NRV experiencing hunger or food hardship.
This past year the Community Foundation of the New River Valley created a grant program based on priority needs identified over the past two years. Thrive collaborators conducted a series of regional discussions on perceived needs, which was followed by a comprehensive network analysis. It was clear from these activities that building collaboration, infrastructure, and capacity are critical to tackling the major challenge of food security.
The program, which is supported by CFNRV’s Thrive initiative, provides one-time funding of up to $4,000 to organizations working to collaboratively expand capacity and infrastructure for food access across the region. Twelve organizations submitted proposals to the program, all of which demonstrated a compelling case for support.
The recipients of the 2019 Emergency Food Program Infrastructure Grants included Plenty!, Radford Fairlawn Daily Bread, Giles County Christian Service Mission, and Warm Hearth Foundation. In this cycle, each of the four grantees sought support to improve food storage capacity to create sustainable infrastructure and expand the scale of support they are able to provide to those in need. Plenty!, for example, saw a 60% increase in patrons after the closure of another pantry in November, 2018. As part of this change, Plenty! gained access to that organization’s meat and deli donation pickups overnight. This provided Plenty! with new sources of protein for the food pantry, but presented a serious infrastructure challenge, requiring Plenty! to store an additional 250 pounds of food per day. Their infrastructure grant will help them transport, store, and easily display this extra food at the pantry, increasing capacity and helping them meet the surge in demand. Kerry Ackerson, Executive Director of Plenty!, said, “We don’t lack the distribution opportunity, we lack storage. The net of this grant is 139 more square feet of cold storage, which is a targeted update to help us address this phenomenon”. Giles County Christian Service Mission will also use their grant to improve cold storage, more than doubling their freezer capacity and enabling the Mission to significantly expand the amount of nutritious food they can safely store and distribute.
The grant program also encouraged multi-organization collaborations. Warm Hearth Foundation’s collaborative grant supports Micah’s Meals, which is a partnership between Warm Hearth, Sodexo, and the Virginia Tech Campus Kitchen (VTCK) to reduce food insecurity and food waste by distributing 75 free meals per month to low-income seniors on the campus of Warm Hearth Village. Their grant will support the purchase of cold food storage, bulk cooking equipment, and delivery materials with the aim of quadrupling the number of meals distributed per month while nearly eliminating container waste. Karen Nelson, Associate Director of Development at Warm Hearth Foundation, believes the Thrive Food Network has led to more collaboration for their organization. Nelson said, “We have made connections with other organizations in the community through this program”.
Radford Fairlawn Daily Bread (RFDB) also received a collaboration-focused grant, submitting a request to improve the safety and efficiency of access to and distribution of foods provided in partnership with the VTCK and other food diversion sources. Their infrastructure grant supports the purchase of movable storage carts and shelving, which will allow them to safely store and redistribute any excess donations that RFDB could not use themselves to other food distribution partners such as Plenty!, All About Jesus, Women’s Resource Center and local churches.