Donations help Salem-based food bank survive rising costs

The high cost of food and increased distribution costs outpaced financial donations part of this fiscal year, but generous donations from spring campaigns and some in-house cost-saving measures are helping to keep Feeding America Southwest Virginia afloat.

The Salem-based food bank distributes food for 13 million meals annually through a network of more than 400 partner programs.

That’s more than $25 million worth of food and grocery-related products in a 26-county area where statistics show that one in six people struggle to put food on their table. Partner agencies serve an average of 122,000 people monthly.

During the fall quarter 2012, the agency began seeing evidence of increased client need as food and distribution costs began to outpace financial donations, raising the possibility that 2 million fewer meals could be served by partner feeding programs during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

In April, officials issued an appeal to the community for additional financial donations to ensure that the food bank could continue to maintain its level of food distribution.

In addition to the appeal, food bank officials, also anticipating the usual summertime dwindling of donations, instituted some cost-savings measures.

Some repairs to vehicles and facilities were delayed, the staff was reduced and vacant positions weren’t filled, and tighter reins were put on not only the purchase of food, but also on office and other supplies. Pamela Irvine, president and CEO, said Feeding America eliminated six positions and delayed filling one position across its 26-county area.

The organization, Irvine said, “became more diligent in cutting expenses as we saw what resources were available.”

As a result, she said, the food bank is able to maintain a comfortable level of operation “without jeopardizing our service.”

The cost-cutting measures, along with spring food drives and campaigns, will enable Feeding America to maintain its current level of service and “actually increase what we distribute,” Irvine said.

In one fund drive, an anonymous donor has challenged food bank supporters and friends to help raise additional resources through June 30. The donor will match the first $10,000 in donations before that date.

In April, Feeding America Southwest Virginia benefitted from the inaugural Young Artists Against Hunger event that raised nearly $30,000.

The event included an art sale and auction, and instrumental and vocal performances by high school and college students.

The record-breaking Stamp Out Hunger campaign in May by the National Association of Letter Carriers brought in 415,800 pounds of non-perishable food donations, topping last year’s haul of 411,330 pounds.

Letter carriers from 108 post offices participated in the annual drive.

“We are thrilled with the generosity of people of southwest Virginia who are so eager to help neighbors in need,” said Steve Young of NALC Branch 524 in Roanoke. “We appreciate everyone’s support and assistance for another record-breaking event as we collected 4,470 additional pounds of food compared to 2012.”

“Stamp Out Hunger is a critical annual event to ensure we can satisfy the increased needs of neighbors around the region. We have a lot of people to thank, starting with generous people in every community in our region. We salute the letter carriers for their record haul and we thank our partners who made Stamp Out Hunger such a success, especially Kroger,” said Irvine.

The food bank, with help from partners Kroger, WSLS (Channel 10), Haley Toyota and Acquisition Title, also held a 100 Percent Juice Drive during May. The drive benefits children’s programs that served more than 780,000 meals and snacks to at-risk children last year.

During the juice drive, Haley Toyota’s “Pack the Tundra,” a one-day event held at three Kroger stores, generated 2,044 pounds of juice, an equivalent of 6,132 servings, 772 more servings than last year.

Kroger also launched a special appeal, “Feed the Need,” in April, which involved 23 Kroger stores and included donations from the grocer and its customers.

Although the final results aren’t in, customers have purchased 358 boxes of nonperishable food at the checkout counters; each box provides 11 meals for a family.

And ongoing is the second annual Governor’s Bowl food and fund drive.

The campaign began May 28 and continues through July 4 as chambers of commerce and state agencies across the state compete to collect food and funds for food banks.

Last year the chambers in the Feeding America Southwest Virginia service area generated food and funds to provide approximately 100,000 meals.

At Feeding America Southwest Virginia, volunteers also have contributed to cost savings and needed support by donating hours that have a monetary value of $71,619.

For more information on the food bank, visit www.faswva.org or find it on Facebook.

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