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Portsmouth nonprofit starts free 'Meal Monday' giveaways during pandemic

Mercy Drops Dream Center volunteers doing drive-thru stations for anyone who needs a meal.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Food insecurity continues to spread throughout Hampton Roads during the pandemic. There are still people in our community searching for their next meal, even as reopening phases progress.

A Portsmouth nonprofit started "Meal Mondays" in response to the needs they see daily.

On Monday a group of volunteers with the Mercy Drops Dream Center gave out hot dishes of chicken alfredo and gumbo to anyone that was hungry.

“Somebody in this community is here for you,” said Mercy Drops Founder Joe Friszolowski. “And if we can provide you a meal, we are going to provide you a meal.”

Volunteers set up drive-thru stations in the Amici’s parking lot on Airline Boulevard in Portsmouth. It was their first Meal Monday.

“People out there enjoying their cookouts and stuff,” Friszolowski said. “But there are a lot of people, when we knock on their doors during the week, they are waiting for us to come with that food.”

Friszolowski said when the pandemic started, their neighborhood food deliveries went from monthly to weekly. They go door to door feeding students and their families.

But the calls keep coming.

The Virginia Peninsula Foodbank CEO Karen Joyner said they predict it will take six to 18 months before the need for food assistance goes back to pre-COVID levels.

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore’s CEO Dr. Ruth Jones said they anticipate the number of individuals in need will continue to climb as more people face uncertainty about if and when they will return to work.

“People are saying, 'Hey, can you come to our neighborhood?'” Friszolowski said. “Well, we didn’t have the manpower to go to those neighborhoods, but what we could do is do a centralized location.

Now, each Monday volunteers will set up giveaways that cover all the bases.

“Toilet paper, eggs, PediaSure,” Friszolowski said. “Whatever people donate.”

Monday, they had drive-up grocery stations with bread, eggs, vegetables, custard, masks, and more.

“There’s no judgment, just drive-thru to get what you need,” said Outreach Coordinator Wade Wiggins.

Several organizations are helping make it all happen: World Central Kitchen, Pharrell Williams, Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, Amicis Pizza Café, Baron’s Pub, Rick’s Frozen Custard, Coastal Supply Solutions, United Way of South Hampton Roads, Kim and Sterling Rollings and 7- Eleven. 

The plan was for Amicis to dish up 600 meals, but as more cars drove by, the kitchen continued to whip food up. They gave out 1,000 meals in total.

“This is Portsmouth loving on Portsmouth,” Friszolowski said. “We are here providing for anybody who needs food tonight.”

Mercy Drops Dream Center volunteers will be back at it next Monday on the TCC Portsmouth campus. The meal distribution begins at 5 p.m.

The group is looking for any partners who want to help with Meal Mondays. Contact Joe@mercydrops.life . 

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