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Virginia Foodbank gives back to the service industry

The Foodbank used its mobile pantry services to provide for restaurant and hotel employees in need.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — As a child growing up in France and Germany, food meant more than just a meal to Michelle Smith.

"Growing up in Europe, I think food is a big part of life. It's not just to nourish the body but social life, family, friends," Smith recalled of her life before moving to the United States at age 20. 

That upbringing inspired her Newport News bakery and bistro: Indulge.

"Food nourishes friendships and relationships. One way we can all get together and share something we have in common, which is we enjoy eating and we need to eat," Smith said. 

Each part of that statement speaks to a different reason as to why she stands here in this Holiday Inn parking lot. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out much of our ability to break bread, to find that enjoyable common ground over a shared table. Meanwhile, the need to eat is felt more deeply than ever before in many industries, both figuratively and literally. That extends to Indulge. 

"We've definitely had to cut back the number of employees, and they have been working twice as hard." 

Smith said seven employees have stayed on through the pandemic. 

"We recognize there are certain industries affected more than others, particularly restaurants and hotels, they're still hurting and we'd like to do something for them," said Virginia Foodbank CEO Karen Joyner, who has been working with the service and hospitality industries since early in the pandemic. 

That "something" to help: a Pop Up Mobile Pantry, organized in partnership with the Newport News Hospitality Association and Retail Alliance. Pre-registered vehicles pull up to the Holiday Inn in Newport News.

Volunteers like Beth Cook spring into action, filling buses with food to be taken directly to employees in need.

"Retailers not only trying to support a business but also a family, just trying to help them any way I can," she said, in between rounds of piling boxes into buses, vans, and trucks. 

One of those vehicles picking up food: Michelle Smith's.

"We have seven employees that stuck it through. I'm so grateful to them, take it back and divide it up between them, I know they'll be appreciative," she said.

This food will certainly be more than a meal for her employees. 

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