In time of increased need, youth feeds Richmond

Catherine MacDonald

Managing Editor

Nearly a foot of snow did not deter the members of Richmond’s Food Not Bombs chapter.

The mostly college-age volunteers provide hot vegetarian meals in Monroe Park every Sunday at 4 p.m.–even this past Sunday, when the snow kept most Richmonders indoors.

In fact, in its 16-year history in Richmond, Food Not Bombs has only ever missed two Sundays.

“Once because it was Christmas and once because it snowed so much no one could get out there,” said Mo Karn, who now hosts the cooking operation in her house.

Sunday, about 6 volunteers served only 10-15 people because of the 11 inches of snow on the ground, said Karn. In nicer weather, Food Not Bombs serves about 150 people in the park each week.

Food Not Bombs is a nonhierarchical group, so no members have official titles, said member Aaron Linas. Karn said although volunteers come and go there are usually about 20 young people who help cook and serve food every Sunday.

Linas said getting free food to cook was simple.

“We just asked grocery stores. We talked to the produce manager and on Sunday mornings we do a Kroger pick up around 9:30,” he said. “When they throw out all their food we pick it up right before it hits the trash. It’s usually food that’s just past the expiration date, so it’s edible but you just can’t sell it.”

Linas said Food Not Bombs began near Boston, specifically in Cambridge, Mass., in protest of increased military spending. The idea, he said, is that if governments spent as much on food as they do on defense, no one would go hungry.

The United States Department of Agriculture Web site states “food-insecure households” are ones which, “at times during the year … were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.”

According the USDA, 36.2 million people lived in food-insecure households in 2007. Of those, 12.4 million were children. According to data by Greater Richmond Partnership, Inc., the city of Richmond’s population in 2007 was 195,300.

So, a population the size of 18.5 Richmonds lived in food-insecure households in the United States. The amount of children in this population was the size of 6.3 theoretical Richmond populations, or about one-third.

According to a report from The Virginia Food Security Summit in 2007, 11.8 percent of households in the commonwealth had low food security. Compared to other states’ percentages, Virginia ranks 44th, which is low.

However, Virginia ranks 19th in percentage increase of low food-security households, which means the rate the problem is increasing is faster than 31 other states.

The non-profit Central Virginia Foodbank works with local agencies in 31 counties and 5 cities. This year, 51 percent more people contacted the CVFB to find a nearby food source than in 2008, according to its Web site.

Like the young volunteers Food Not Bombs relies on, Director of Communications Kristin VanStory said the CVFB counts on 18-25 year olds to make a difference in this time of increased need.

To help reach this demographic, several local radio stations held food drives during the holiday season. In the week before Thanksgiving, several stations set up campers and tents outside local Kroger grocery stores to encourage donations of both cash and nonperishable food items. Popular DJs lived in the campers for the duration of the drives, which had playful, youth-targeting names like “Show Us Your Cans.”

VanStory said she noticed young people out in droves at the Y101.5 New Rock Alternative food drive outside the Carytown Kroger.

“We really look to see that more and more because those college students and younger kids are our future donors and are, hopefully, current and future volunteers as well,” she said. “We really want to get their support early on and help them understand the need that’s out there.”

VanStory said young adults should learn they can make a difference, even if the gesture is as small as bringing in a can of food to donate.

She said, “Hopefully that will bring them in and get them hooked, and they’ll find a way to stay involved throughout their life.”

Anna Yates contributed to this story.

Central Virginia Foodbank statistics

— CVFB provided almost 13 million pounds of food locally last year.

— Compared to this time last year, CVFB is distributing 30 percent more food to those in need.

— CVFB provided nearly 13 million pounds of food locally last year.

— Nearly 58,000 pounds of food goes out its doors each day.

— 35 percent of food recipients are children.

— 25,000 children in the metro Richmond area go hungry on a daily basis

— In addition to children, CVFB serves frail elderly, families in crisis, the disabled and many others.

Get involved!

Food Not Bombs Sunday schedule

1-3:30 p.m. at 710 Boulevard to cook

4 p.m. at the corner of Main and Belvidere streets to serve

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