Foodbank opens Western Tidewater branch to combat growing food insecurity
The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore opened the doors of a long-awaited rural branch.
Officials hope the new Western Tidewater food bank will help alleviate high rates of food insecurity in the area – a lack of reliable access to affordable, healthy food.
The nonprofit worked on the nearly 17,000-square-foot facility in Franklin for almost two years.
“Helping to feed a neighbor doesn’t just provide a meal, it establishes trust,” Christopher Tan, the Foodbank’s newly appointed CEO, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “That trust and sense of belonging creates the connections that strengthen the roots of our community.”
Tan said the new building, formerly a hardware store, is one of the nonprofit’s largest capital investments to date. The organization spent about $3.5 million, including $2 million from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and $600,000 in local grants.
The facility also completes the “Foodbank service area puzzle,” Tan said, ensuring there is a food bank within 50 miles of anyone in Hampton Roads.
The numbers of people experiencing food insecurity in Hampton Roads have risen dramatically in recent years. Rural, low-income communities and communities of color are particularly affected.
Sometimes people simply don’t have enough money to buy food. But other times it can take too long to get to a grocery store – making certain areas “food deserts” – or the available stores don’t have healthy options.
Almost a third of children in Franklin are considered food insecure, according to the Foodbank. High rates elsewhere in the area include 22% of children in Sussex County and 15% in Suffolk.
And the numbers among seniors have jumped by up to 200% since the beginning of the century, the nonprofit said.
The new food bank is located at 618 South Street and includes a warehouse with walk-refrigerators, freezers and dry storage that can house up to 96,000 pounds of food, officials said.
A farmer’s market-style section also offers a more traditional shopping experience for dairy, meat and produce.
“People can come and actually do client-choice shopping as if they’re in a grocery store,” said Clifford Hedgspeth Sr., manager of the Western Tidewater branch. “No stigmas attached.”
Before joining the Foodbank, Hedgspeth said he helped run a food pantry through the Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk. When the pandemic hit, he saw need triple.
“It was a real big spike,” he said. “We have everyday people. It could have been me.”
The new space will offer holistic services aimed at helping the root causes of food insecurity. That includes a computer lab, health education, housing assistance, early childhood programs, career development and financial literacy.
“This whole concept is not only to have people come through the line, but we want to eventually get them out of the line,” Hedspeth said.
Melinda Edwards, 57, lives around the corner from the new branch and heard about it through her church. She looks forward to attending some housing classes because she wants to eventually buy her own home.
Edwards usually shops at Food Lion but now plans to stop by the food bank.
“I feel like it’s a blessing,” she said.