Church groups band together for feeding and assistance programs


(photo of St. Peter Church in Richmond by Shannon Kane)


Regina made a delighted grunt as she bit in her blue sugar cookie.

“These meals are always so delicious,” she said while eating her pasta.

Regina takes part in the Downtown Community Ministry’s weekly program to help combat hunger in downtown Richmond. The Downtown Community Ministry consists of five churches: Second Presbyterian Church, St. Paul Episcopal, Third Street Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Peter Catholic Church,and Centenary United Methodist Church.

Lisa Miles, the associate director of the University of Richmond’s Common Ground program, said there is a lot of hunger and need in many areas of the city.

“Hunger is much more prevalent than a lot of us think it is,” Miles said.

The churches recognized this problem and the different difficult circumstances of their neighbors. They decided to open their doors to the community together as a ministry.

This ministry formed 34 years ago in response to the high poverty level in the city of Richmond. The five churches have rotated days to provide meals for struggling Richmond residents over the years. They convene around six to eight times a year to assess the ministry’s progress in fighting hunger in the city in the name of God.

“God guides [the program]. Whatever you do to the least you do to God,” said the Rev. Gino Rossi, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church, when discussing the ministry’s purpose.

Each church takes a different approach to feeding the hungry. St. Peter provides bagged lunches on Tuesdays.

“The lunches are very popular. We usually get around 100 people around to start the month, and the number only grows throughout the month. We’ve gotten up to 187 people before,” said Barbara Simmons, a church volunteer.

St. Peter  started a dinner program on Wednesdays in 2016 with other Catholic churches in the area.

“The dinner program started with only 30 people last year and has grown to about 100 people now through word of mouth,” Simmons said.

St. Paul Church works with FeedMore, a local food bank, to feed the hungry every Thursday afternoon. FeedMore and other local grocery stores provide the food every Wednesday. Their cook, Ulli Robinson then creates the menu and prepares the meals with other volunteers from the community to serve over 100 people each week.

Hana Yun, the parish outreach and volunteer coordinator, said their work is guided by the biblical story of the road to Emmaus, which teaches to welcome the stranger.

“We really embrace this, and have opened our doors to anyone who is hungry. We don’t discriminate who comes to us for food. We try and fill the stomachs and hearts of the people who come each week,” Yun said.

St. Paul also helps connects people to services they might need to help their situation. They partner with Richmond Department of Social Services, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, the Daily Planet,and the Veterans Affairs every week.

Centenary United Methodist Church also offers breakfast and hot lunches to the less fortunate every Friday. The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Matthew Bates, said between 150 and 200 people are fed each week week.

Some of the church’s staff help serve the meals but the majority of the assistance comes from volunteers from the other churches in the Downtown Community Ministry as well as other United Methodist Churches in the Richmond area. FeedMore, Food Lion,and Panera Bread donate are the primary food donors.

“Our volunteers go and pick up the food in these huge boxes. I mean huge boxes. They come in on Wednesdays and Thursdays,” said Mandy Porter, the church’s administrative assistant.


(A volunteer gets ready to get the preparation process going at Centenary church – photo by Shannon Kane)

The volunteers arrive around 9 a.m. on Fridays to prepare the meals for the hungry.

“They cook up all of the food that morning. It’s like magic every Friday. We call it ‘Magic Friday,” said Porter.

Centenary opens the program at 10:30 a.m., and gives a chance for the people arriving to socialize, providing snacks and coffee before giving out their lunches half an hour later.

People are called to get their lunches in groups of 10, each grabbing a tray for their food. The meals include meat, vegetables, fruit, bread and a dessert. Everyone is allowed to go back for seconds.

The church also provides takeaway boxes so the people who comes to the lunch can bring food back to their family members who may be immobile or who were not able to attend, Porter said.

Bates said the work Centenary does with the rest of the downtown ministry to fight hunger in Richmond is just one piece of their efforts. According to the 2016 census, 26.2 percent of Richmond’s citizens are below the poverty line, and Bates acknowledged the greater need in the community beyond providing meals.

“What we do is always part of a bigger picture,” Bates said. “We are always in touch with other social service organizations,” he continued, saying that Centenary tries to help people get to the resources they need for housing, employment, medical care, and more.

Despite how deep the problem of poverty runs in Richmond, Miles expressed faith in the local government to continue to work for a better future.

“I think we have a Richmond city government that is very aware of what needs to happen,” Miles said. “There’s talented leaders and a lot of good will,” she said in reference to the city’s creation of various anti-poverty initiatives.

However, Miles said combatting the intertwining issues of hunger, unemployment and lack of transportation is a long-term process.


Churches, partners find different ways to give food to the hungry


A little more than a year ago, Jennifer Shaw, a Richmond native, had a job and a home.

Now Shaw sits on a bench on East Broad Street next to two bags containing her belongings. She is one of the many homeless people in Richmond that depend on community non-profits for food on a regular basis.

“Some help, some complain, some of them just look, some of them just walk by,” Shaw said. “So you just go day by day trying to make it, that’s all.”

Shaw is not alone. According to FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank, one in seven Virginians are suffering from hunger.

Shaw said she had no relatives or friends that she could ask for help after she lost her job. Now homeless, she goes to local churches for food.

Shaw said she visits a different church in the area each day for food. Churches alone do not have enough for her to get by, she said, but serve as a supplement to other sources. The churches Shaw goes to provide two meals per day, but at the same time. No groceries are provided.

“I mean, it helps, but it’s at a point where you want to consider just using them for help,” said Shaw. “It’s just sort of a… you know, maybe I’ll go here one time.”

Volunteers at churches such as those at the Woodland Heights Baptist Church on 611 W. 31 Street often see the same people relying on their Food Closet Ministry for food, sometimes for years, said Cathy Kennedy, a volunteer there.

“Some people come in just one time and only come back a year later,” Kennedy said. “But we have lots of returning cases.”

Kennedy said she noticed an increase in the number of homeless people over the years, but that the church community donations also grew to keep up with the situation.

The Food Closet Ministry’s records show that it served 157 adults and children for the month of October.

“I think it’s a bad situation,” said Jerry Freeman, another volunteer at the church’s food ministry. “They get caught in this circle in their lives, and sometimes it’s just hard for them to get out of it. I think a few people do become dependent on it instead of doing what they should do for themselves.”

Freeman, who has volunteered at the Woodland Heights for around a decade, said he has noticed a trend in the number of people donating to their food ministry over the last few years. Even so, they are looking for ways to improve the ministry to better serve the hungry for next year, such as through partnering with a nearby church to be able to provide more than just staple food items.

“There’s a lot of need, but unfortunately just like one of the ladies told us that helped us grow: ‘You got to get through the greedy to get to the needy.’ That’s the way it is,” Freeman said.

Organizations such as FeedMore and its partners try to alleviate hunger in Central Virginia, distributing more than 52,000 meals each day in the region, according to Jessica Howe, FeedMore’s marketing and communications director. The partner agency network includes church food pantries, homeless shelters, and emergency shelters.

 Annie Andrews, FeedMore operations manager, said not only is the food meant to be supplemental, it’s hard for people to take advantage of their system.

This is because FeedMore does not have the capacity to fill someone’s refrigerator in the same way that an average family can fill keep their food stocked by spending an average of 100 dollars on food each week, Andrews said.

“There is a lot of food in Richmond, but it’s not all getting directed where it needs to go,” Andrews said.

One of the major reasons for this problem is the locations of grocery stores throughout the city.

“Richmond also happens to be one of the largest grocery store markets in the country when it comes to the volume of grocery stores per capita,” Andrews said, “(but) we still have a lot of food deserts in Richmond. There’s a little bit of dissonance between where the need is and then where grocery stores are located.”

“Rodeo” Joe, a former rodeo clown who doesn’t tell anyone his last name, holds a sign to collect money from people each day near East Main Street downtown so that he can afford to pay $20 for a place to sleep during the colder times of the year instead of using it for food. Having become homeless eight years ago, he attends churches and occasionally food pantries for food in the metro Richmond area.

“There’s churches and stuff to feed and everything like that, but it’s just really rough,” he said. “It’s really tough.”

FeedMore steps up to serve those in need during the holiday season


IMG_0924(FeedMore volunteers at work – photo by Aquila Maliyekkal)




It takes about 250 volunteers per day to keep FeedMore running. There are high school student volunteers during the summer and retired individuals that volunteer and deliver meals through the program, Meals on Wheels. Some groups or organizations come in for

team building exercises.


FeedMore is gearing up to provide meals for people in need during the holiday season.

FeedMore helps nearly 200,000 children, families and seniors who struggle with hunger daily. It does that through various programs, most notably the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and the Community Kitchen.

“Hunger can be a year-round issue, but people think about it at this time of year,” said Tim McDermott, FeedMore’s chief development officer.

Jessica Howe, FeedMore’s marketing and communications manager, said there is traditionally a surge in donations starting in November.

“During the week before Thanksgiving, in just three days, we took in more than 25,000 pounds of food donations, which is what we receive at the donation door in a typical month January – October,” she said.

FeedMore programs and a network of partner agencies provide more than 52,000 meals a day across 34 counties and cities in Central Virginia. In order to make sure that FeedMore can reach the most people possible, a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes.

“We start every year with an annual budget that cover both expenses and reserves, approved initially by our finance committee and then by the full board,” said McDermott.

In order to meet funding goals, FeedMore has several fundraisers throughout the year, the largest being “Zest Fest,” an evening spent sampling wines, craft beers and high end wines.

“Depending on the year we raise about $120,000 to $130,000,” said McDermott.

But there are also fundraisers thrown by third parties where a portion of the proceeds go to FeedMore. The most prominent one is Richmond Restaurant Week, founded by local restaurateurs Aline and Dale Reitzer, the owners of Acacia Midtown on West Cary Street.

“Guests that dine at those restaurants from a pre-fixed menu that cost this year $29.17. The guest that are dining during restaurant week are getting a really good deal for a three-course meal,” said McDermott.

“We [FeedMore] get $4.17 per head and that also generates about $120,000 over the course of those two weeks.”

The event is held annually for one week in April and one week in October, with 42 restaurants participating.

According to McDermott, out of the roughly $12-13 million needed a year to operate, FeedMore has to generate around $8 million of that through private funds. FeedMore is a non-profit organization.

He estimates that individual donations account for about 52 percent, donations from foundations about 30 percent, corporations about 12 percent, and the rest comes from civic organizations and church groups. The rest of the budget come from the fees for services. FeedMore also sells excess food to other food pantries at a 50 percent discount.

“If we bought a case of peaches for $5, we would sell that to the agencies of the other food pantries for $2.50,” said McDermott.

He said FeedMore receives a little less than $2 million a year for senior nutrition and children’s programs.

In order to deal with the massive influx in donations as the holiday season gets in full swing, FeedMore has to make several staffing adjustments.

“We increased the number of volunteers we had working the donation door during this week and leading up to Christmas to help ensure everything runs smoothly and the donor has a pleasant experience,” said Howe. “We continue to be impressed, and humbled, by the outpouring of support we receive from our community during the holidays.”


It takes about 250 volunteers per day to keep FeedMore running. There are high school student volunteers during the summer and retired individuals that volunteer and deliver meals through the program, Meals on Wheels. Some groups or organizations come in for team building exercises.

According to Mike Griffin, a volunteer at FeedMore for 17 years, there’s a thrill in knowing you’re touching other people’s lives.

“Probably the biggest thing is the satisfaction that you get in seeing the clients and how appreciative they are,” said Griffin. “It’s a good feeling to know that you can give back and that they are so appreciative.”

Richmond restaurants combat hunger by participating in restaurant week


As Shane Rogan sat at the bar of the empty Mosaic Restaurant on River Road waiting for the doors to open and his customers to come in for a meal, he appeared conflicted about how exactly to feel about his restaurant’s role in easing the burden of hunger in Richmond.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “there is red-tape and legalities to where, you know, if we have extra food, we can’t just go and give it to a homeless shelter. Which again, I understand, but…. it’s kind of a silly thing to me.”

Mosaic, where Rogan serves as the general manager, has two locations in Richmond and one in South Carolina. The restaurant has been open for more than 21 years and is owned by a family native to Richmond. It is for this reason, Rogan said, that the restaurant tries to do whatever it can to give back to the community, even if he wishes they could do more to combat hunger.

Meanwhile, in downtown Richmond, Timothy McDermott, the chief development officer of FeedMore, had a different perspective on the extent that restaurants help to alleviate hunger in the city.

“My sense is that the restaurants in this town, as an industry, do a great deal of work for feeding the hungry,” he said. “Could they do more? Sure. Everyone could do more.”

In McDermott’s opinion however, restaurants do not hold greater moral accountability to relieve hunger than any other members of the community.

“I think society has a responsibility to care and look out for the people who are hungry,” he said.

FeedMore is the core hunger relief organization and the primary food provider in Virginia. FeedMore serves 34 cities and counties through 320 partner organizations, including the Central Virginia Food Bank. Its headquarters are located in Richmond, where the food insecurity rate is 21.3 percent, almost 10 percent higher than the state average, according to Feeding America’s website. Those who benefit from FeedMore’s services typically receive food for seven out of 12 months of the year, McDermott said.

One of the largest special event programs that FeedMore benefits from is Richmond Restaurant Week. The program was founded by Aline Reitzer, general manager and co-owner of Acacia Midtown Restaurant, 16 years ago.

“I wanted to get together a small group of locally owned restaurants, put on an event that was in line with what we do every single day which was feed people and bring people together around the table,” Reitzer said.

Reitzer was inspired by her experiences attending New York City’s restaurant week, and she wanted to create a similar program in Richmond that also gave back to the community.

Twice a year for one week, more 40 local restaurants donate a set amount from each three course prix fixe meal that customers order. This year $4.17 was donated from each $29.17 meal.

The Facebook page for Richmond Restaurant Week stated that “Our mission is threefold: To offer great dining deals to customers, to promote local restaurant business, and to raise money for an organization in line with our interest in food.”

Restaurant Week brings in around $120,000 to FeedMore each year, approximately 40 percent of their special events donations.

Tarrant’s Cafe donated more than $1,700 during Restaurant Week this year, Chris Gerardi, the general manager of the restaurant said.

According to Gerardi, 85 to 90 percent of his customers order off of the Restaurant Week menu and those who do not often still donate to the program.

FeedMore does the majority of the promotion; however, restaurants also independently promote Restaurant Week on social media.

“It really should sell itself,” said James Foster, the general manager of The Daily Kitchen and Bar in Carytown. “I’m offering you half-priced food and you’re giving money to the hungry why would you not want to do this.”

The program has become so established that many Richmond residents look forward to it without any advertising.

“People like the convenience of being kind,” Foster said. “People don’t really have to go out of their way to do it, so they love it.”

Restaurant week menus provide an explanation that money from each meal ordered off of the menu will be donated to FeedMore.

“I think it’s very important to let people know what they’re supporting,” Gerardi said.

In addition to combatting hunger, Restaurant Week also provides customers with a unique dining experience.

Mosaic generally serves items that differ from their regular menu Rogan said.

Tarrant’s Cafe received a lot of positive feedback on their menu on Yelp and social media according to Gerardi.

The prix fixe menu offers all three courses for $29.17, whereas at Mosaic, one entree can cost up to $27.

“I don’t want to say you’d be a cold-hearted idiot to not order off the restaurant week menu,” said Foster, “but you’re getting away with basically half the expense.”

Restaurant Week donations are given as unrestricted income, meaning that the money can and does go toward all aspects of FeedMore’s services including administration, hunger relief programs and transportation. According to McDermott, $0.96 of every dollar donated goes directly to FeedMore’s services.

“It’s a great deal for us, it is just a great deal,” McDermott said. “It’s a great deal from a marketing standpoint, it’s a great deal from the philanthropic standpoint.”

Every year FeedMore relies on $8 to $8.5 million to be donated from private support McDermott said. FeedMore has a six month cash reserve, which is double the three month reserve required by state regulations.

“People don’t go hungry if we have a lousy year,” said McDermott. “We make sure that is never going to happen.”

There are certain times of the year when hunger is more prevalent. Because of this, Reitzer positioned Restaurant Week for the last week of October and April. Her idea was for the donations from Restaurant Week to come before holiday time and the end of the school year. According to McDermott, children in need are not able to get as many meals when they are not in school.

“I think it’s a win, win, win event,” Reitzer said.

Restaurant Week started with nine participating restaurants and raised about $5,000, four percent of last year’s donation. Reitzer said that she never expected the program to grow into the successful event that it is today.

Despite the immense success of Restaurant Week, some restaurant managers and owners still wish that there was more they could do to combat hunger.

Mosaic has been participating in Restaurant Week for approximately six years now, but Rogan wishes that he could also donate leftover prepared food.

FeedMore is unable to accept prepared food because of food safety concerns McDermott said. Prepared food can only be donated to a food rescue organization, of which Richmond has none.

Despite this, people are still looking to combat hunger in more ways.

“I think it would be nice even to do some food truck events where we can set up someplace by a shelter, by FeedMore,” Rogan said. “Let them know, and donate…. so that we’re actually preparing the food right there for them.”

FeedMore and partners serve food, fellowship to help communities and people in need



(photos by Aijia Liao)

At FeedMore headquarters on Rhoadmiller Street, hundreds of volunteers from local schools, businesses and churches teamed up with FeedMore staff to make this winter a little bit warmer.

People were busy packaging and preparing foods at that headquarter on a recent Monday afternoon. Through the efforts of FeedMore, Central Virginia’s core hunger-relief organization, the food distribution organization will serve more than 900 seniors and homebound neighbors this winter.

“We want to ensure that families in need have something to eat during the holiday,” said Jessica Howe, the marketing and communications manager of FeedMore. “It also helps them to build a fellowship in the community, you know, they can even invite friends to share the meal. ”

About 200 to 300 volunteers work at FeedMore every day to guarantee the quality of foods and to deliver meals to clients on time. About 80 percent of the workforce at the kitchen are volunteers.

Staff and volunteers package food and follow specific dietary restrictions of each recipient to accommodate their nutritional requirements. The menu is adjusted each season.

“Our volunteers will deliver right to the person’s door. It’s diet specific. We have 14 different diets, so if you have kidney disease, high blood pressure or something going on, we can help create a meal specific to you to help you get better,” Howe said.

DSC09532Olivia Adams volunteers with her children at Meals On Wheels program to deliver meals to clients at least once a month. Adams said that she and her husband considered the community service as a good opportunity to show their children how the community gets together trying to solve serious problems like hunger and poverty.

“A lot of families do not have a place to stay during the holiday, we all know that. They even don’t have enough money to buy food.” Adams said.

In fact, Richmond has had the highest poverty rate in the state for years, with one in three children in the city living below the federal poverty level and one in four residents living below the poverty level. The U.S. Census Bureau also reported the food insecurity rate in Richmond to be around 21.3 percent.

Foods ready to be distributed at FeedMore

To combat this, FeedMore partnered with different organizations and community centers throughout the city, providing foods and groceries at a much lower price than the market. Organizations are able to pay a membership fee to get groceries and fresh food or order specific meals from FeedMore.

Peter Paul Development Center is one of the community centers that partners with FeedMore.

DSC09473The center serves four of the city’s largest public housing communities in the East End.

People live in public housing community generally make less than $9,000 a year, which is far from sufficient, especially for households with seniors and children. The fact that East End community is considered to be a food desert further adds onto the difficulties families face.

“There are not a lot place to go to have access to good quality produce. More than 55 percent of residents living in East End are living below the poverty level. There are also studies that have

Mosby Court, one of the four public housing community PPDC serves in East End

shown the life expectancy in the East End is 20 years shorter compared to the West End,” said Danielle Ripperton, the director of development at the center.

To help with the situation, the center paired with FeedMore on its food distribution program. Adrienne Johnson, the outreach ooordinator, said many organizations go through FeedMore to buy foods because the cost is lower.

About 120 people come to the food distribution each time. The number of people who receive help can reach from 300 to 400. Ninety-eight percent of those people are from East End.

“We target the families in the East End,” said Johnson, “but if someone comes to the food distribution that does not live in this area, we don’t turn them away. There will never be a time when we will say no to someone who came to the food distribution.”

Ripperton said the food distribution takes place twice a month on the first and third Wednesday using the ground of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The church, along with Peter-Paul, has volunteers to help run the program.

“Our community volunteers are really big help, they are here from start to finish to make sure this program went through smoothly, we invited people and welcome them,” said Johnson.

The center’s food distribution includes a mix of food to fulfill the needs of people who come.

“We always have meat, typically we have breads, some sweets depends on what FeedMore gives to us, and we really try to get some fresh products from farms,” said Johnson.

Johnson said since there is no quality grocery store in the area, people would have to get on the buses just to go get quality groceries.

Damon Jiggetts, the center’s executive director, said most of the people come to the food distribution on a regular basis. He sees the program as a way to help people in the community to get through hard times. He recalled seeing a man showing up frequently for several months, afterward Jiggetts learned that the food helped to feed the man’s family as he was looking for a job.

The center also offers a  twice-a-week lunch is a part of a program targeting residents who are 50 or older. Johnson said there are currently about 50 seniors enrolled, who pay a small membership fee.

Another mission of Peter Paul is to ensure the welfare and the progress of the children in the neighborhood. The Youth Program support students age from 7 to 18, providing them with nutritious foods and offering afterschool mentoring on schoolwork.

About half of the adults who live in these four public housing communities did not complete high school, and less than 4 percent of them have a bachelor’s degree, Ripperton said.

There are four public schools in the East End, some of which have been in the news following shootings, other violence and lockdowns.

“Good and bad are different terms. I thinks all of the schools in East Ends still need some more support, you know, just because you built the new building doesn’t mean that the internal infrastructure is good. ” Johnson said.

Another challenge in East End is with the subsidized properties, which are privately-owned by but subsidized by the government to rent to people below certain income level.

“They get their rents regardless from the federal government, so they are under no standards to keep their property maintained,” Ripperton said.

The mayor’s office is working to replace some of the public housings sections for mixed income housing. Jiggetts was optimistic about this federally-funded program, which would replace subsidized properties to market home ownership.

“You may read or heard about things happened in here, a lot of bad things, but what we want is to let people know that there aren’t just bad staff happening in East End,”Jiggetts said. “There is something good, something positive, and we are trying to make changes here.”



Programs, church groups offer options to feed the hungry


When Miko McKeiver was younger, he had dreams of opening a restaurant with his mother.

“We cooked it all,” said McKeiver, 41, who has lived in Richmond he was 4. “Soul food, Italian — I mean it didn’t matter. My momma cooked that thing and I watched her as a little kid.”

McKeiver’s vision was put on pause when he had to take care of his mother, who had fallen ill, when McKeiver was in his 20s. Although McKeiver’s mother eventually died, he said attended culinary school and held a variety of jobs in the restaurant industry.

“If I could just make one person happy with the meal I make, then I did my job,” McKeiver said. “My favorite job was at a place called David’s Bakery, and all we did was bake pies and cakes. Even though I had to get up at 3:30 a.m., I had me a good time.”

There were a lot of extra pies and cakes left over at the end of the day, McKeiver said. Instead of throwing the food away, McKeiver and his boss would pass them out to nearby homeless people.

“I had my good times and I had my bad times,” McKeiver said. “But my thing is, when I worked, I know how it is because I been on the streets so my thing is I love to give back.”

McKeiver spent his adult life in and out of culinary jobs. With each one, McKeiver made it a priority to donate the extra food, often taking the initiative to ask his bosses to give back.

“We had extra food,” McKeiver said. “We would throw it away and I said ‘No, how about we just give it to them?’ So what we did was we put them in trays and we see the homeless people and we set them up there and I made sure they was nice and hot and we fed them.”

One of these places was a Red Lobster in Richmond. Even though McKeiver no longer works there, the restaurant continues to donate excess food, he said.

“Well I know a couple guys from Red Lobster, they still do it,” McKeiver said. “Because you know, I mean, not to be funny or nothing, but you throw away food in the trash, and you can give it to somebody who needs it.”

The current manager at that same Red Lobster, who asked not to be named because he did not want to speak for the entire Red Lobster chain, said that the restaurant donates its extra food every Monday.

Members from Broken Bread Ministries, a church in Highland Springs, come every Monday to the restaurant to collect a week’s worth of gathered excess food, the manager said.

“If something gets cooked, and it can’t hit the table, or a guest says they didn’t order that, we’ll donate it,” the manager said. “We just freeze it, bag it, tag it and tell what it is and they pick it up.”

Lamb’s Basket, another food access organization in Richmond, serves up to 75 hungry people each of the three days they open their doors per week.

Ann Decker, president of Lamb’s Basket, has volunteered with the organization for the past 12 years. She said Everyone who works for Lamb’s Basket is a volunteer

Lamb’s Basket is a 501-3c corporation, meaning that it is a federally tax-exempt nonprofit organization that is classified as a charity.

The organization is supported by several churches in the Lakeside area, Decker said. Grocery stores that donate to the charity receive a tax deduction on the donated goods, she said, which Lamb’s Basket picks up two to three times per week.

Clients line up each day food is being distributed. They are given a number and once they are called back, are able to select specialty foods, fresh produce and frozen meats. They are also given a paper bag filled with canned and boxed foods, Decker said. The food allocation is determined by how many members are in the family.

“Each client can come twice a month,” Decker said. “So many of our clients receive food stamps, but the numbers for that are down so much. So we are able to supply a lot of things.”

Lamb’s Basket clients must fit into the federal guidelines for poverty, Decker said.

“We take them at 150 percent of the poverty guidelines, so it’s a pretty high number,” she said. “Some pantries only take at 100 percent of the poverty guidelines.”

Wendy Rutherford, 55, a Richmond native, has been on disability since 2010 due to a brain injury, she said. Rutherford comes to Lamb’s Basket every other week to get her groceries that will last her throughout the month.

“They are very friendly and they give you a good variety of food,” Rutherford said.

Trader Joe’s, a neighborhood grocery chain with several organic and gourmet food options, is the largest food supplier to Lamb’s Basket, Decker said.

“They’re donating six days a week and it’s all really nice things,” Decker said. “They will donate their flowers, and our clients love to receive flowers, because that’s something not in their budget.”

Rutherford consistently returns to Lamb’s Basket because of its high quality, she said.

“I’ve gone to my own church and I didn’t get any vegetables or anything like that,” Rutherford said. “I only got canned goods and it’s not as nice.”

Between churches and organizations such as Lamb’s Basket, there are several opportunities for hungry people in Richmond to have access to food, said McKeiver, who currently uses some of these services.

“You should never be hungry,” McKeiver said. “They feed you out here 24/7. Different churches, they take their time out and they come and feed you.”

Rutherford, however, said she wishes there would be more services similar to Lamb’s Basket throughout Richmond. Rutherford said she was not aware of the problem of food access in the city until she had to deal with it firsthand.

“I didn’t have a need,” Rutherford said. “To be honest with you, I mean, I had gone and volunteered for a Thanksgiving to feed the homeless once. But it wasn’t something that I’ve done on a yearly basis.”

Although McKeiver acknowledged that there was opportunity for food access in Richmond, there is still room for improvement, he said.

“I think they could do more,” McKeiver said. “I mean, Richmond, to be honest, they’re always talking about ‘We can do a lot more,’ but you’re not doing it. They wanna take their funds over to another country, but you’ve got a lot of homeless people in here that you can help out.”

For now, McKeiver said, he will continue to look for another culinary position in the city.

“The best thing I can say about Richmond is you’ve got opportunities,” McKeiver said. “Yeah, I wish I could be cooking right now.”



Hungry in Richmond: expanding the route to food access


(A GRTC bus on Route 16)



More tourists are coming to Richmond not for its historical sites, but for its up and coming dining scene. However, many of Richmond’s own residents are suffering from a lack of access to food — and some cite the public transportation system as a factor perpetuating this issue.

Elizabeth Theriault, the chronic disease and food systems specialist for the Richmond City Health Department, says the bus routes that run through food deserts are making it difficult for Richmonders to make healthy consumption choices.

“There are 302 fast food restaurants, 83 convenience stores in the City of Richmond compared to only 11 grocery stores, which are primarily in the west end of the city,” Theriault said. “Distance and transportation to these shops all contribute to food insecurity.”

Theriault focuses on bike and walk-ability, food access and equity and ultimately longevity for inner-city Richmond inhabitants.

“No vehicle ownership coupled with the Greater Richmond Transit Company routes and service area extending not far enough into high poverty desert tracts only furthers unequal access,” Theriault said.

Theriault also explained how wage discrimination serves as a barrier to credit access and housing, impacting food access and food justice.

“Structural discrimination manifests at all points in the food system,” Theriault said. “It emerges as wage discrimination, poor working conditions, and in employment.”

Not just to Theriault, but to many other Richmond activists, economics and wages play key roles in bus routes and other forms of public transportation reaching proper food resources.

Omari Guevara, a community organizer and activist with Kinfolk Community Empowerment Center in Richmond said,  “It all comes down to economics.”

Guevara has been concentrating specifically on the city’s connection between food access and public transit, and his goals include to improve the health, financial well-being, and quality of life for the Richmond public housing sector.

As a solution, Guevara suggested adding new routes entirely, rather than adding extra stops to already existing routes.

“You’re not going to get frozen vegetables, you’re going to get canned vegetables. You’re not going to have the same access to healthy food as someone else because of the distance of the grocery stores from public housing,” Guevara said.

The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) is aware of this issue and working on taking the necessary steps to improve the lives of their riders.

GRTC is in the process of a route redesign, which involves adding routes that are intentionally designed for people that live in food deserts, and that will provide access to multiple grocery stores.

“We haven’t done a major change like this really in more than 50 years,” said Carrie Rose Pace, the Director of Communications for the GRTC.

Pace said Route 5, which will extend to Carytown,  and Route 8, which will reach the new Walmart at Nine Mile and Laburnum Roads,  will be the most powerful initiatives in getting riders access to food, especially with “one-seat rides” in place.

These “one-seat rides” will “ensure that you aren’t having to transfer multiple times or connect to multiple buses just to get to a grocery store,” Pace said.

One of Guevara’s main concerns is rider awareness of the programs themselves.

“We aren’t just talking about physically getting access, but do I have the time to get there, do I know it’s there, do I have the education that lets me know that it’s over there- have I even seen it?,” Guevara said.

The GRTC held public meetings in March , including multiple meetings in neighborhoods where low income is an issue with high ridership on their buses, in order to learn how to properly educate their user-base.

“What we heard that is so important is to have a personal one-on-one interaction. To help people–to talk it out,” said Pace.

As a result, the GRTC will introduce free Travel Buddies who will drive potential riders turn by turn on the new routes, and show them the stops in person. Travel Buddies began their training this week, and are planned to be available in early 2018.