COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Rising prices of gas, groceries and rent have hit people's wallets. One Colonial Heights food bank is all too familiar with how the increase in the cost of living has impacted their community.
"A lot of times, people just don't think people are hungry in their own backyards," said Warren Hammonds, the executive director for the Colonial Heights Food Bank.
Before COVID-19, Hammond said the food bank was serving around 150 families every week. In any given month, they would serve around eight to 10 new families.
The pandemic ended up shifting how things were done at the food bank.
"During COVID, it was very fluctuating. One, we started trying to provide more food to families when they came so they wouldn't have to come as frequently to us," Hammonds said.
However, when the pandemic began to slow, they couldn't have imagined the busy season that would be just down the road.
"The suddenness and the amount of them that are coming in homelessness or first time has surprised us and especially those homeless in hotels," Hammonds said. "We are now serving anybody in hotel dwellings that are placed there by Homeless Services anywhere in the Tri-Cities because that has become such a need of awareness and a need coming to us."
He said that as result, food pantry numbers are growing.
"So these hotel families and individuals are coming to us four, five, six times each week and it is just bombarding us," Hammonds said.
Now instead of a handful of homeless clients each month, they have already served about 70 families this year. On top of the families they normally provide for, they have already served 120 to 125 new families.
To better serve the homeless who may or may not be in hotels, the food pantry developed its own backpacks.
"Last couple of months, I purchase $4,000 worth of specialty products just to package into homeless backpacks. So that they would have these shelf-stable, good snacks and good proteins to take with them if they have no cooking element around."
The bags will have a milk source, cereal, microwaveable things, canned items of fruits and vegetables and other things.
If families in hotels have a way to cook, this food pantry makes to provide those in need with a refrigerator full of produce.
"At least a third of what we distribute is in the form of fresh, nutritious produce," Hammonds said.
Their needs continue to grow.
"When I got here five years ago, we would purchase additional food out of our budget, only about once every two to three months. Now I do it almost every single week," Hammonds said.
While they are serving more in their community, they said they appreciate any donation from those who are able to help.
This food pantry has greater purchasing power than going to a retail shop, so monetary donations can often be stretched further.
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