RICHMOND, Va. — September marks "Hunger Action Month" across the U.S., as food banks and pantries raise awareness about the services they provide to help the 34 million people who are considered food insecure.
Many were greeted by the smiling face of volunteer Audrey Clayton. "Gee whiz, they think we are angels, but we're not. We're just like they are. We just look for the opportunity to serve, to help other people," she said.
Clayton knows first-hand what it's like to stand in line. "The food bank itself is a savior."
And the number of people the church helps has roughly tripled since before the pandemic.
Kristin Cummings, Director of St. Thomas Episcopal Church Food Pantry, said, "Today, I would say that we're going hit over 300. Last week we served 304 families."
The most recent driving factor has been inflation, leaving families to have to make choices as Lloyd Bingham, another volunteer and former recipient, explained.
"Am I going to pay the electric bill or am I going to buy food. Am I going to pay the mortgage or the rent or am I going buy food? And you got balance, what you want to do, so you get things done," said Bingham.
St. Thomas's isn't alone in seeing the increase.
"Constant demand, we're doing a lot more mobile pantries than we've ever done before. So we've seen a lot more hunger and in our community, especially in our rural communities," explained Michael Kenny, Chief Operating Officer of FeedMore.
The organization, which provides some of the church's food as well as other pantries across Central Virginia, said in the first half of 2022 they've seen a 44% increase in the number of people they refer to the food pantries, and a 48% increase in new callers to their "Hunger Hotline."
"Some people are just talking about how they just can't make ends meet with typically their disability or their social security or loss of jobs," said Lydia Merrick, a volunteer who works with the FeedMore Hunger Hotline.
In total, FeedMore estimates about one in nine Central Virginians are food insecure — or over 165,000 people. And the same inflation issue hitting those they help impacts FeedMore's ability to stock their warehouse.
"Our purchasing is up 18% over the previous year and last month we were up over 1% higher than we were the previous month," said Kenny.
With "Hunger Action Month," those at FeedMore and St. Thomas said it serves as a good time to remind people about the issue, with Clayton and Bingham adding there's also room for others to help out.
Bingham said, "If you can give, give what you can give. That's all we ask."
"When you see a need, you have to step in and do something about it," Clayton added.
If you'd like to help out, they're always looking for donations, with the biggest need for non-perishable goods. The other option is to volunteer with FeedMore in their kitchen or Meals on Wheels program.