PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – In the Prentis Park section of Portsmouth, decades after White flight, and with little reinvestment from the public and private sectors, residents here live in a food desert.

Willie Mae Bethea, 94, is a regular visitor at the Wesley Community Service Center.

“Every bit helps, honey, to feed my family I ain’t got nobody but me and my son and he’s 70 years old,” Bethea said.

The center is her twice-a-week supermarket and mini drug store. A portion of the former Methodist church building is a one-stop shop for food, clothing and medicine.

(WAVY Photo – Regina Mobley)

Members of The Links Incorporated donated personal care items such as soap, lotion and feminine hygiene products. Portsmouth Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas Burke is a member of the Portsmouth Links Chapter.

(WAVY Photo – Regina Mobley)

“We are partnering together to try and combat the crime, food insecurity and whatever the people’s personal needs are,” Lucas Burke said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently added healthy grains and proteins to the inventory at the Wesley Community Service Center after pandemic-era extra funding for SNAP clients came to an end. The arrival of the USDA program exposed another need in Prentis Park. Renyatta Banks is the center’s Executive Director.

Regina Mobley: Recently you have learned that many of your clients are illiterate?

Renyatta Banks: I have, and what made it come about is the USDA form that is mandatory for us to get them to fill out. It’s an awesome form, but it can be intimidating to some of the clients we serve.

It’s been a long, a long time coming – as Sam Cooke sang during the civil rights era – but change is going to come to Prentis Park.

The Wesley Community Service Center will soon undergo a half-million-dollar rehabilitation to restore the building and restore lives. Beginning in the fall, the center could offer Head Start, GED and workforce development programs.

The Community Service Center this month will host a concert to raise funds for the center. Grammy award-winning Gospel Singer Jonathan McReynolds is the headliner for a performance on April 22 at Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk. For ticket information call 757-977-9107.

The center’s executive director encourages members of the community to visit the center to see first-hand how the program is helping citizens in Prentis Park.

“I really would love to see y’all here,” Banks said. “Come and show out and prove this neighborhood wrong and this is the beacon of Portsmouth.”