HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – The community served by the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank has the second highest rate of food insecurity in Virginia, second only to the western part of the commonwealth.

The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank serves nine cities and counties, including Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, Gloucester, Williamsburg, Matthews County, York County, James City County and Surry County. In this region 62,000 people are considered food insecure, 20,000 of those are children. This means 1 in every 6 children in the region doesn’t know when their next nutritious meal will be.

Last year, the foodbank distributed more than 12 million pounds of food.

10 On Your Side spoke with Virginia Peninsula Foodbank CEO Karen Joyner about how the pandemic affected the people they serve.

“It has been crazy the past year and a half,” explained Joyner. “In the beginning of the pandemic, March, April, May, June, of last year, the numbers were skyrocketing. We were serving three and four times as many individuals as we had the previous year and some of that need has subsided because of all the relief efforts. However with the end of some of those relief programs such as the added unemployment insurance and the moratorium on evictions, we expect the demand to go back up again in the coming months.”

The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank used some of the money from the CARES Act to invest in getting the most nutritious food into some of the hardest to reach communities.

They purchased four refrigerated trailers they plan to park at different local food pantries.

“It’s going to make a difference in the health of the individuals in our community. Produce and meat is so expensive and grocery costs have made it even more expensive over the last several months, so a lot of people forgo buying that type of food and they end up eating your regular dry goods, canned goods, boxed meals and things like that. Some of those are ok to eat, but you need to have produce and meat for the protein in order to keep up your health,” said Joyner.

The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank operates a number of programs out of their Hampton headquarters.

They fill backpacks to send home with kids so they have nutritious food over the weekend. 1,500 packs are sent with children each week.

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“This program started because there were children who were running into school on Monday morning and it wasn’t because they were excited to get to school, it was because they weren’t eating well over the weekend and knew that when they got to school they’d get a free breakfast or a free lunch,” said Joyner. “This alleviates hunger for the children over the weekend.”

Joyner says they also operate a culinary training program.

“We encourage economically disadvantaged adults to apply to come into the program and they volunteer their time preparing meals for our child nutrition programs. While they’re learning culinary skills, they’re also learning life skills and job skills. We’ve had over 160 graduates go onto successful careers as a result of the program,” said Joyner.

If you are in need of assistance, you can get more information on the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank website at this link.