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New Virginia foodbank program will distribute about 100,000 packages of food in emergency COVID-19 support

Virginia is using $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to help thousands of Virginians struggling with access to food during the pandemic.

NORFOLK, Va. — There’s a new program for hundreds of thousands of Virginians struggling with access to food during the coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis.

The “We Care COVID-19 Emergency Food Support” initiative started Friday. It will provide about 100,000 food care packages over the next few months to people in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is using $1.4 million in CARES Act money to start the new program. Sentara Healthcare and Truist are each donating $500,000 as well.

Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, President and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, said 1.2 million Virginians are struggling with food insecurity, and the start of the pandemic was challenging for food banks across the state.

“Within a matter of days, food donations plummeted while our costs to provide a meal skyrocketed," Jones Nichols said. “Along with the decrease in food, funds, partners, and volunteers, Virginia foodbanks experienced a surge of individuals needing food assistance.”

The 20-pound food care packages are designed to provide five days of food.

Sentara Healthcare President and CEO Howard Kern said the program supports healthcare through nutrition.

“We have to play a core role and significant role in improving nutritional balance," Kern said.

At the Norfolk kick-off event, Governor Ralph Northam said people are suffering, and the program could be a lifeline.

"During COVID-19 [people with food insecurity] has gone up to 22 percent, so that’s about one in five people in Virginia who need access to nutritious food," Northam said.  

Foodbank leaders said they’ll distribute the packages to communities with the greatest need, especially to seniors.

“There’s going to be a tremendous need that will exist for a long time so we’re in this to keep serving," Jones Nichols said.

Foodbanks will start distributing the boxes as early as next week.