Virginia "We Care" COVID-19 Emergency Food Support plan launched

Governor Northam joined Sentara Healthcare, Truist and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks Joined to kick off this Statewide Initiative. Picture taken from Sentara's release.

With Gov. Ralph Northam in attendance, Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health, in partnership with Truist, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, kicked off a new statewide initiative Friday, July 31 to bolster Virginia’s emergency food support system. Spearheaded by Sentara and dubbed the “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan, the initiative, which is currently underway at food banks across the state, will provide free and accessible meals and nourishment to families during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The “We Care” initiative’s model to meet increased food insecurity centers around a 20-pound box filled with a five-day food supply that can be easily assembled to provide safe, low-touch distribution at existing locations managed by the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. Friday’s event, held at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, marked the first of dozens of volunteer pack out events at food banks across the state and culminated in the production of roughly 300 boxes. In total, the “We Care” initiative will support the distribution of roughly 100,000 boxes.

After greeting volunteers and leadership from Sentara, Truist, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, Gov. Northam praised the initiative as an exemplary model of how the public, nonprofit, and private sectors can partner to meet essential community needs.

The Commonwealth’s commitment of $1.4 million from CARES Act funds and the start-up contributions of $500,000 each from Sentara Healthcare and Truist provided the first step to establishing the program, and other organizations, including Humana, Northern Neck Virginia Insurance, CVS Health/Aetna, the Wawa Foundation and Tito’s Vodka, have since joined the cause, helping to bring total public and private contributions to $2.6 million.

”People are hurting right now, and the Commonwealth intends to be part of the solution to make sure people have access to the food the need. In America, we take care of each other in tough times, and I’m grateful to the community partners who are stepping up,” said Governor Ralph S. Northam

Howard P. Kern, President and CEO of Sentara Healthcare, reinforced the governor’s sentiments, stating that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to call greater attention to the broader social determinants of health that allow our communities to flourish — food security chief among them.

“Sentara is committed to addressing health disparities in the communities we serve.” Kern said. “We are honored to partner with the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, Truist and the Commonwealth as we embark on this important plan to address the impacts of food insecurity on our fellow Virginians.”

“Since announcing our Truist Cares initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly mobilized with partners such as Sentara Healthcare, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks and the Commonwealth to meet the critical needs in our communities,” said Daniel Peterson, Southside Hampton Roads market president for Truist. “At Truist, we’re committed to addressing food insecurity among families throughout Virginia and are pleased to help provide free nourishing meals during this difficult time.”

Virginia’s food banks have responded to an unprecedented increase in demand with urgency, but with Feeding America currently projecting that 450,000 more Virginians will become food insecure this year, passing 1.2 million in total, the continuing needs of Virginians threatens to outpace their capacity to meet those needs.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore has distributed 4 million meals to individuals and families experiencing food insecurity, and we anticipate that number will increase as unemployment rates continue to surge,” said Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, President and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. “We are pleased to witness such an outpouring of advocacy through the ‘We Care’ initiative, and as a result, look forward to distributing healthy, nutritious meals to our neighbors in need. This public-private partnership is truly demonstrative of our belief that, ‘together, we can solve hunger.’”