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Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in good shape despite rising food costs

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 10:33 PM EST
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VERONA, Va. (WHSV) - Across the nation, food banks are struggling with higher food costs, a lack of volunteers, and continued supply chain issues. In the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is doing better than others, but is still facing some challenges.

“By in large, we are running at full steam and for the most part the same is true for our partner agencies, food pantries mainly, in the various communities that we serve,” said Michael McKee, CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is fully staffed unlike some of its counterparts across the country, but it is still dealing with some of the same struggles.

“Our biggest problem right now with respect to accessing food sources is just the cost, freight in December was up 17% over a year ago, and some items just are not always available,” said McKee.

Hope Distributed in Harrisonburg is one of the food pantries supported by the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Its volunteers have kept it going strong.

“Our volunteer force has been pretty stable. Like everyone else we lost some people because of COVID but during that time other people new to us have stepped up and really filled that void. As far as volunteering goes, we’re at pretty much full force, but we always need more help,” said Jeff Wilhelm, executive director of Hope Distributed.

Hope Distributed has managed to avoid supply shortages thanks to donations from local grocery stores and the food bank, but some types of food have been more difficult to come by.

“As far as supply chain issues go the only thing that we’re low on right now it seems is produce, we just can’t get enough fruits and vegetables for our clients, so that’s what’s been low in the last couple of months,” said Wilhelm.

“The thing that we have the hardest time getting would be the nutrient-dense foods, especially proteins like canned meats, peanut butter, canned fish, tuna, those sorts of items that tend to be both expensive and rarely donated,” said Michael McKee.

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank says the community’s support and donations have helped them keep up with rising food costs and adjust to supply chain delays, especially as it has seen an increase in the need for its services as of late after a month of freezing temperatures.

“That really forces people into a situation where they’re having to choose between heating their homes or eating, and we’re seeing the need pick up because people are living on the margins,” said McKee.

During the cold, the food bank is ramping up its efforts to help senior citizens in need.

“We’re focusing more on senior hunger, producing monthly food boxes that we’re getting out through community partners to help those who are older and living on very little income ensure that they do have enough to eat,” said McKee.

McKee adds that the food insecurity around the area does not appear to be dropping off.

“Food insecurity is not coming down to pre-pandemic levels, it’s still higher than it was pre-pandemic and that’s after all of the federal interventions, all of the increases in unemployment benefits, food stamps, and the rest of it,” he said.

To learn how you can help the food bank click here.

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