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Meet the Virginia volunteers whose top mission is fighting hunger

Volunteer: 'The food insecurity is just unbelievable'
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Posted at 7:55 PM, Jan 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 10:30:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Seeing a room stocked with food and essential items brings an incredible feeling to Sarah Chua.

Chua is a volunteer coordinator with Richmond's Sacred Heart Center, which serves Latino families in Central Virginia. Their mission is to provide Latinx families with tools to thrive and flourish.

Right now, Chua and her team's top mission is to fight hunger.

"The food insecurity is just unbelievable," Chua said.

It's already a significant issue impacting the Latino community and has only been intensified by a relentless pandemic.

"The numbers have just been skyrocketing here at the food bank," Chua explained. "In October, we weren't even seeing 400 people here at the food bank. It has doubled since then."

Sarah Chua, volunteer coordinator with Richmond's Sacred Heart Center.
Sarah Chua, volunteer coordinator with Richmond's Sacred Heart Center.

Chua isn't the only one who recognizes the need.

Natasha Lemus founded Waymakers Foundation in North Chesterfield at the height of the pandemic.

"We've been assisting about 600 families a month, and the numbers keep growing," Lemus said. "We are in high demand."

Lemus operates the non-profit in the back of her day job office. She assembles and delivers meals to people across Central Virginia. The food resembles meals they would typically eat in their native country.

"We decided to go ahead and provide the essentials for what Latinos usually use in their homes, which is rice and flour to make tortillas and stuff like that," she added.

Lemus said she offers support to undocumented immigrants as well, especially since many work essential jobs and don't receive assistance from the government. She calls it a "no questions asked" policy.

"They are your house cleaners out there, they are the ones cutting our grass. They are your roofers, they're the ones out there right now. and since they don't have papers. They don't have a legal status in the county, but they're already here and they need our help," she said.

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Natasha Lemus is the founder of Waymakers Foundation in North Chesterfield.

Officials with the Virginia Department of Health are actively working to address racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19.

"We know the disproportionate impact the virus has had on Latino communities," said Sable K Nelson Dyer, the acting director with of the Office of Health Equity at the Virginia Department of Health.

She said Latinos are impacted at a higher rate for several reasons including the jobs they work, housing structures, and documentation.

"That will be a barrier to them accessing the available testing, contact tracing, or even as we're rolling out these vaccines to people would be reluctant to access those services, because they don't want to put their family members in jeopardy," said Dyer.

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Sable K. Nelson Dyer, acting director of the Office of Health Equity at the Virginia Department of Health.

Dyer added VDH aims to bridge the gap by overcoming communication barriers and building trust.

"We also have made sure that the governor's press conferences are also available in Spanish. We make sure that all of our public health information and all of the partners that we work with, and translate their materials into plain, easily understood Spanish," said Dyer.

Dyer said VDH is intentional about how it communicates information.

"We know, here in the Commonwealth of Virginia that the Filipino community is big on like messaging apps like WhatsApp, and leveraging radio stations, for example, said Dyer. "So we've been very intentional about making sure that our outreach aligns with the way that the community that we're trying to reach, have received their information."

As COVID-19 continues to rage, Chua and Lemus pledge to serve.

"This has just always been my passion, serving my community," said Chua.

"I'm just going to continue with God's purpose, and this is it," said Lemus.

Both organizers are calling on the community to help with donations and volunteers.

Here's how you can help Sacred Heart Center:

The center will be accepting food donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm

Donations can be dropped off at the side of our main building, located at 1400 Perry Street. Please drive into Sacred Heart’s parking lot and pull up to the designated parking spot located next to the first door on the left.

Please stay in your vehicle and someone will come to accept your donations.

If you would like to help replenish our food pantry, but are unable to come to the SHC, please consider donating using this link.

To find a list of items Sacred Heart is accepting, click here.

Here's how you can help Waymakers Foundation:

Lemus is asking for more volunteers to assist with the influx in calls for assistance, especially volunteers who are bilingual.

If you are interested in volunteering you can email admin@waymakers-foundation.org or call Call 804-920-0179.

You can learn more about Waymakers Foundation here.