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Food bank sees increased demand, needs proteins

Rockbridge Area Relief Association
Pat Jarrett
Blue Ridge Area Food Bank
Volunteer Zac Singleton shelves jelly at one of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank's partners in Rockbridge County in 2020.

The national organization Feeding America marks September as Hunger Action Month. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi checked in with a regional food bank that's seen more demand for their help lately.

According to the USDA, the overall price of store-bought food rose more than 13% from July 2021 to July this year. That's one of the factors that's driving more people to seek assistance from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and the community food pantries and programs they supply.

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank
Michael McKee is the food bank's executive director.

MICHAEL MCKEE: Certainly, we're getting that data anecdotally, but we're beginning to see it in the numbers as well.

Executive Director Michael McKee said in the spring and early summer, they dipped below 106,000 visits per month – the lowest since the pandemic hit. Now, it's back up over 109,000, and McKee expects it will continue to rise. The food bank, which is headquartered in Verona, serves 25 counties and eight cities.

MCKEE: We have a double whammy of inflation hitting people hard, and food costs in particular. … At the end of the day, our folks, the neighbors we serve together with our community partners, were already hanging on by a thread. … And it comes, too, following the cessation of certain government benefits. The child tax credits, certainly, the expansion in SNAP, and the protection from eviction.

They're particularly in need of protein-rich foods right now, as McKee said the current outbreak of avian flu among domestic poultry has made items like chicken and eggs pricey and harder to find.

MCKEE: People can make financial contributions on our website … and can certainly donate food. … canned tuna … canned chicken, peanut butter. Any nut butter, but especially peanut butter, because kids love it.

Learn more at brafb.org.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.