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Cash-strapped Feeding America Southwest Virginia says it needs help if it is to continue to provide food supplies to the region’s hungriest people.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Jack and Fredda Cromer of Blacksburg collect food the Interfaith Food Pantry in Blacksburg. Advocates for the needy say a combination of increasing need and decreasing government assistance has put food pantries in a bind.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Charles Tunnell of Martinsville gathers food and other donations for Victory International Ministries in Martinsville from Feeding Virginia Southwest Virginia. The warehouse in Salem serves as a clearinghouse for many of the region’s food charities.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Without the help of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, Jamie Robertson said she might not have gotten back on her feet.
Weeks before Christmas last year, she and her husband, along with their three young children, found themselves suddenly searching for another place to live after a tree fell on their rental home.
Robertson said once they found a new place, they faced the unexpected costs of a truck to move their belongings and utilit y bills they hadn’t previously had to pay.
She said she wondered how they would make it.
“If Feeding America was not there for me, I probably would have done without my lights for two weeks,” Robertson said, explaining money was tight and it came down to paying bills or paying for food.
After a few phone calls, Feeding America Southwest Virginia helped her with food for Christmas dinner and the next several weeks until Robertson would get paid.
Now the cash-strapped nonprofit, which serves a 26-county region in Southwest Virginia, needs help. Officials announced last week that if the organization can’t raise additional funds by June, it will have to cut back services.
The group solicits and collects food from around the nation and region, then stores and distributes it to other nonprofits, agencies and individuals. It has served the area for 32 years and in recent years has increased food distribution to keep up the increasing need.
Pamela Irvine, Feeding America Southwest Virginia’s president and CEO, said a weak economy, coupled with cuts in federal funding and increasing need, have put her organization in a difficult spot.
“At this point, if the economy doesn’t recover, if there’s another spike, increase, in need, we can’t meet that. We’re trying to sustain right now,” she said.
The nonprofit already has reduced expenditures, Irvine said, including personnel reductions and cutting back on office expenses.
She said officials had hoped for a better holiday fundraising season, but donors were nervous.
“The state of the economy and the uncertainty doesn’t promote the ability to secure large gifts,” Irvine said. “People are thinking about their own financial needs. It was different this year.”
In addition, she said there have been decreases to Department of Agriculture reimbursements, and on top of that there could be cuts to federal funding because of sequestration. And need for services has increased. Irvine said that since 2008 there has been a 57 percent increase in food distribution.
She said the fundraising goal now is to raise about $2 million by June. Last year between January and June, they raised $1.3 million.
On Wednesday, Kroger officials announced they intend to lend support in the form of a match to community donations. The company launched a campaign that will run through April 27 at 23 stores from Smith Mountain Lake to Bristol where customers can donate several ways. At the end of the campaign, Kroger will match up to $20,000 of the community contributions.
Kroger spokeswoman Allison McGee said her company is hopeful other companies will also step up and contribute.
“The goal is that everyone has fresh, wholesome food to put on the table every day. If they are going to provide fewer meals, that means more people are going to be going to bed hungry,” she said, referring to Feeding America Southwest Virginia.
Scaling back would mean less food for partners and individuals such as Robertson, who still remembers how she felt when Feeding America Southwest Virginia helped her.
“I cried. I was a big baby,” she said.
Robertson, who said her family is doing much better today, wanted people to know that cutting back on food distribution could hurt people who need help.
“Our economy is really bad right now. There are so many people out there struggling worse than I may have been,” she said. “If we don’t pull together, things are going to be really bad and we’re going to see a lot more people struggling.”
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