Norfolk food bank launches We Care partnership to help children, seniors, low-income families during pandemic


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — About 20 volunteers at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore were already busy packing boxes Friday morning for the new We Care program when Gov. Ralph Northam arrived and showed he could take a little direction.

“You’re gonna take three cans and put them in here just like this,” a team member demonstrated.

Northam (D-Va.) picked up on the plan right away. He says it brought back old memories from his younger days.

“One of the best jobs I’ve ever had on the Eastern Shore was packing groceries, and back then they called us bag boys.”

We Care is targeting children, seniors and low-income families. Now that COVID-19 is upon us, those groups don’t number in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands — they’re expected to eclipse one million people in Virginia.

The program is a partnership including the food bank, Sentara Healthcare, Truist Banking (formerly Sun Trust and BB&T) and the state.

We Care boxes hold canned vegetables, rice, tuna and other items for people having a rough time during the pandemic. The head of the food bank says the challenges of getting food to those who need it are unprecedented.

“Within a matter of days, food donations plummeted while our costs of providing a meal skyrocketed,” said CEO Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols.

Northam says before COVID, about 9 percent of Virginians had food insecurity. Now that’s more than doubled to 22 percent. Here in Hampton Roads, the food bank estimates it was serving about 120,000 people on a regular basis, and now it’s closer to 200,000.

“A lot of individuals have been hit hard,” Northam said. “They’ve suffered through this and one of those areas is in food insecurity. There’s nothing more important than individuals having access to good nutrition.”

The state is contributing $1.4 million to the effort, with the funds coming from the federal CARES Act. Truist Banking and Sentara are combining for another $1 million to get We Care off the ground.

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