More volunteers are needed at food warehouses and mobile food pantries around the region to help during the coronavirus pandemic, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank announced in a Thursday news release.
Responding to increased demand for food, the food bank, which covers a large region in central and western Virginia, is also taking measures to help clients and volunteers lower their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“Healthy, low-risk individuals who are available and eager to help in this challenging time can give the gift of time and volunteer at the food bank, or one of our 205 partner food pantries,” the release said.
The food bank distributes food to pantries around Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren.
Because many pantries in the area have older volunteers who might decide not to expose themselves to the risk of illness, Abena Foreman-Trice, media and communications manager for the food bank, said pantries in general are going to need more help now.
“Conditions are just changing so quickly,” she said. “The needs change, and then the response changes.”
Emmanuel’s Table at 122 E Court St., Woodstock, and the Congregational Community Action Project (CCAP) at 112 S. Kent St., Winchester, are two area locations she knows of that need help, but she said more may need help soon.
“The need could grow,” she said. “Any folks with the heart for helping and they’re in a position to do so ... that would be really helpful.”
The food bank’s pantry locator at brafb.org/findhelp lists food pantries around the service area. Potential volunteers should always call ahead to ask if the pantry needs help.
The Food Bank’s warehouses in Winchester, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Verona will have volunteer activities waiting for helpers. Website visitors can sign up online at brafb.org/volunteer for opportunities at the nearest warehouse location. Hands are also needed at 10 mobile food pantry rural sites in the Thomas Jefferson area or central Shenandoah Valley counties.
For the safety of volunteers and staff, the food bank has initiated frequent sanitation routines, which are practiced each day.
While it’s not practical to maintain 6 feet of space between volunteers for every project, the food bank is scheduling more shifts with fewer volunteers to reduce risk. It’s also building in physical space between people, where possible.
“We have taken the temporary step to lower the minimum age requirement — we now allow volunteers age 16 and older to help,” the release said.
Ideally, volunteers who are 16 or 17 “will be accompanied by an adult because staff will not have time to supervise teens who can’t work independently.”
All shifts are scheduled during the day, for now. New shifts will be added over time. Occasional Saturday shifts will be scheduled, and eventually some evening shifts.
“If there’s any silver lining in our new normal, it’s the evidence that we live and work in communities where people care about each other and about folks in need,” Karen Ratzlaff, chief philanthropy officer at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, said in the release.
“The Food Bank is receiving questions and inquiries from people in a position to help, who want to know what they can do for others impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Volunteering is one of the best ways individuals can provide that much needed help.”
Those who can’t volunteer might consider making a financial donation to help the food bank address the need. Visit www.brafb.org/give-now and click on donate.