The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Celebrates 40 Plus Years of Fighting Food Insecurities Throughout the Region
Since 1981, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has served the food and nutrition needs of the community throughout the Lynchburg region, aiding Park View Community Mission, the Agape Center, Lynchburg Daily Bread, and Timberlake United Methodist Church. First operated out of a Quonset Hut in Staunton, BRAFB’s first food delivery was a truckload of taco shells and chocolate sauce complemented with a few pallets of USDA cheese.
By the end of the year, BRAFB had distributed 233,000 pounds of food to the hungry through 200 member agencies in 18 counties along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the regional food bank has distributed an incredible 30 million pounds of food as of June 30th.
In 1985, BRAFB opened its Lynchburg-based warehouse, established in the earlier days of national food banking. Originally, the country’s first regional food banks were “responsible for aggregating food from multiple sources and then redistributing that food directly to food pantries and other food programs,” elaborated BRAFB CEO, Michael McKee.
The idea of developing food banks began as the federal government began looking into farm bills, federal nutrition programs, and ways to develop commodity prices, and gave momentum to the idea that the government could utilize food banks to distribute surplus farm commodities and address the issue of food insecurity throughout the nation. When they were first envisioned, food banks were implemented in targeted rural communities, including areas like Staunton, VA, where BRAFB first operated, to help make food accessible in those areas.
At the dawn of the 21st century, food banks began shifting towards providing perishable foods and fresh produce, including as much as “7 to 8 million pounds of fresh produce” according to McKee. Food banks such as BRAFB grew from year to year due to the increasing growth of income inequality, and those circumstances gave food banks an even larger role in 2008 when the sub-prime mortgage crisis struck America, and thousands of families became unemployed.
Twelve years later, BRAFB played an even more important role in serving the nutrition needs of the Lynchburg region when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. While the food bank serves an average of approximately 118,000 individuals per month, that number was as high as 140,000 in May of 2020, near the height of the pandemic. “The pandemic challenged more severely and in more complicated ways than anything else in our history,” explained McKee, but also noted that BRAFB was “fortunate” because the pandemic hit the area more slowly than other areas of the country, forcing only 8% of the food bank’s pantries to close, allowing them to continue serving the community.
Today, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is partnering with seven regional sister food banks to create a statewide equity initiative in the hopes of improving ways to connect individuals in the Lynchburg region who are “food insecure,” and who also need better access to quality healthcare services. Through grants, the food bank will provide more than $2 million across its partner network by helping them improve their pantry spaces, building out walk-in coolers, and acquiring trucks and vans to provide home deliveries.
“Over the last 40 years, the food bank has moved towards deeper partner engagement, capacity, and capability development of our network,” explained Tyler Herman, BRAFB’s director of partner engagement. “There are a lot of reasons as to why there was such resiliency during the pandemic, but we believe a part of that was deeper investment in relationships, providing the resources, allocating funding for cold storage, technology, and training that really deepened relationships with our partners and created synergy as this collective network of food assistance providers across our service area,” Herman concluded.
BRAFB’s yearly contributions to the community throughout the Lynchburg region, numbering in the millions of pounds of food, wouldn’t be possible without donations from members of that same community. For more information about how to donate, click HERE.
To view upcoming volunteer opportunities and events, view The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s page on SHARE Greater Lynchburg HERE.