Monday, August 19, 2013

The End is Just the Beginning!

As I sit at my home in Ohio in preparation to go back to school I am shocked and can't believe that my summer and internship with Feeding America Southwest Virginia has come to an end. Throughout this time of reflection I have truly realized how blessed I was to have such a fruitful and incredible internship, and to meet wonderful people and make contacts, but not only are they contacts, but good and lifelong friends. 

Another benefit was the fact that I am studying Nonprofit Management at Ohio State and was able to apply my classroom knowledge to the field, in addition to taking the ideas and aspects that I learned this summer back to the classroom this fall. In that spirit I want to highlight for you a few things that I learned this summer.

1. Many problems can't be solved overnight. 
Nonprofits have problems and struggles that they must overcome and Feeding America Southwest Virginia has it's fair share. A few stuck out to me and were comprised of external communication with partners, employee education and development, internal organizational communication, and lack of funds and resources. I noticed them and became frustrated and wanted to immediately fix them but I soon realized after many conversations with staff that these problems may not be solved quickly and that many nonprofits or businesses for that matter have many more obstacles to overcome. It was enlightening and I have walked away from the experience with high hopes for FASWVA that they will solve these problems and will be all the better for it. It has also pushed me to continue to strive and provide solutions for the nonprofit sector as I will be pursuing a career next year.

2. Keep good records.
I really learned this one when the end of the month reports came around. These records are beneficial when applying for grants, year end reports to see the impact FASWVA made, and when audits come around. I had to fill out forms on how much time I spent towards certain projects, my mileage and places traveled, I had to tally numbers that kept track of meals for the summer feeding program, and the list goes on. I was annoyed and bogged down, but I realized that if I would have kept track of things throughout the month instead of trying to come up with everything at the end of the month things would have been much easier! 

3. Collaboration is awesome!
I am a real big fan of working in teams and seeing businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations working together to make a large impact in a community. I saw many needs for collaboration over the summer and I was constantly thinking of ways in which FASWVA could work together with another group or their agencies to improve food distribution, engage the community  and improve the summer food service program, or enhance the development department and bring in more funds. There were a few great examples of collaboration that I witnessed this summer, first in watching the Catholic Heart Work Camp group that helped out a ton this summer, and the Canstruction event. Both of these are explained in further detail in previous posts, CHWC and Canstruction . Also the Hunger Study interns, Chelsea MacCormack and Katie Romano, they worked seamlessly together and with agencies to successfully run the whole study. They went over and above their duties and truly showed how much more you can accomplish when you work together as a team than by yourself.

4. Step out of your comfort zone and be willing to always learn from others.
I tried so many new things this summer and I moved 6 hours away from home in order to have the internship. But it was all worth it and I would do it again in a heart beat. People are great and hold a wealth of knowledge, so engage them, talk with them, and serve and help them. Life provides endless opportunities and I've found that I have learned the most about myself and this world when I have dove headfirst into these opportunities looking for an adventure. 

I could go on and on and describe to you more of what I did this summer, from working with Summer Food Service Programs for children, helping with the Hunger in America 2014 study, reading and studying a fantastic book called Nonprofit Sustainability, to helping with planning for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or simply meeting and hanging out with some wonderful people all over southwest Virginia. But I don't have to because many of these projects and adventures are described in previous posts, so please take another look and learn from them and I hope be inspired by the words I put down.

I want to thank my readers for without you I wouldn't have had a blog. So keep pressing on and I encourage you all to volunteer, serve, and look and come up with solutions for the many social problems that plague our world. One simple act can change a life. I am going to keep striving to help and I know that this internship has pushed me that much more, the end is just the beginning.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From Hope to Change

Part 2: Canstruction 
During my time in learning more about Canstruction with Lora J. Katz, AIA, partner with Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design  I asked her a couple of more questions, more personal this time. I asked, what brought about your passion for service and the willingness to help others and why do you look to better your community?

These questions struck a chord within her heart, as I could see the passion flowing from her answer and stories she shared. She said that she grew up in a home where service was emphasized. Her father worked hard and provided for his family but didn't want to be involved in service to his community. But she explained that her mother had a very different view, she made sure to serve and she knew that it helped and changed people's lives. Her mother encouraged her to get out there and help people so Lora did all that she could to make a difference and simply serve. This view has stuck with Lora ever since and she still makes time for service.

She continued and said, "That if you don't do it yourself then it may not get done." She has seen plenty of needs in her community and she has ultimately recognized that she needs to step up to the plate and help, because if she doesn't then who else will. In these aspirations though, she also recognized the importance of bringing others along with her to create change in the community. It's the old adage that with a team you can accomplish so much more than what you can do alone.  It was incredible and encouraging to see her zeal for service, especially coming from an experienced professional who may not have the time to do much else besides work and attend meetings.

We then started to branch off and talk about the needs that are so evident in our communities, whether poverty, abuse, or food insecurity. Ms. Katz led with a story. During the winter she was touring a school with the principal to provide ideas on future designs and renovations for the building, when suddenly a little boy ran up. There were rumors going around that there may not be school the next day due to a incoming snow storm, he asked the principal to make sure. The principal assured the boy and said by the looks of things that there wouldn't be school. But this wasn't the answer that the little boy was looking for, he immediately had a frown on his face and exclaimed, "I won't have anything to eat then tomorrow."

By this time Ms. Katz had teared up and she was working to hold back more tears, she apologized for being emotional. But I praised her and said that her tears were encouraging and her heart for those in need was so big and so full of hope for continued change in our world. She was working hard and doing the best that she could to serve her community of Roanoke, VA and I know for certain that she will never slow down in her pursuit for a better world. I also know that this mindset is present in myself and many others and that brings me a hope that I am sure will transform itself into change.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Put in the time in hopes for a great return!

Canstruction: one can make a difference, Part 1:
It has been an exciting past six days! I was home in Ohio over the weekend and the first half of the week for a wedding and some much needed family time. I was feeling emotionally and physically drained in returning to Virginia yesterday, but I knew that I needed to get back for a meeting at 3:30pm. I can honestly say now that it was absolutely worth it to go to that meeting and I am so glad that I made the 6 hour drive to Virginia. It was an encouraging and fantastic learning experience! 

The meeting was with Lora J Katz, AIA, an architect and interior designer with Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design  where she has been working tirelessly to bring Canstruction to Roanoke, which will take place October 4-12, 2013. She was willing to meet with myself and the two other interns, Chelsea and Katie, to explain the details of this event and to offer further insight and awareness on the other community development work that she and her partner at the firm are doing in the Roanoke area.   

Canstruction is an international organization as their website explains, "Canstruction is a nonprofit organization that holds annual design and build competitions to construct fantastic, giant sized, structures made entirely out of canned food. In each city after the structures are built and the winners declared the creations go on view to the general public as giant art exhibits. At the close of the competition all of the Cansculptures are dismantled, the food used in the structures is donated to the local food banks for distribution to community emergency feeding programs."

Feeding America Southwest Virginia will be the recipient food bank of the Canstruction in Roanoke and we are so excited to be able to partner in such a great opportunity. Lora explained that the event will have 10 organizations participating as designers and builders, ranging from technology companies, a bank, and schools. It is expected to raise 12,000-15,000 cans which will equate to feeding thousands of people in the southwest Virginia area!  

The sculptures to be built in Roanoke will be displayed at the Taubman Museum of Art and there are strict rules as to how the sculptures are to be constructed. We thought that this was quite interesting, Lora explained that each structure has to be on a 10' x 10' base and up to 8 feet tall and entirely built out of canned foods. They also must be free standing except for small pieces of velcro on the tops of the cans so that the labels will not be defaced as they will be donated at the end of the viewing period. The free standing aspect presents its challenges as Lora informed us of a Canstruction exhibit in Washington D.C. that she helped with. The sculptures had been built and professional pictures of the exhibits had been taken and soon the museum guests were let in for viewing. A little boy ran over to one of the sculptures and pulled a can with the whole sculpture toppling in front of him! She said that it was quite a sight but very unfortunate for the participating organization that built the sculpture. 

Another surprising aspect of the event is the amount of collaboration taking place to put on the event. There of course is Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design donating their time and planning, the Taubman donating the space, there is also a photographer donating his services in addition to one of the participating organizations donating marketing and advertisement. These donations are integral and successfully work to keep the price of the event at a huge low. Lora also emphasized Kroger as a monumental help to the event. They are selling the cans to each organization at a very low price, basically only to recoup costs, and are donating cans to one of the participants, the Roanoke City Schools: Burton Center for Arts and Technology . They are also providing the transportation and moving of the cans throughout the duration of the event, a large expense that is being provided free of cost. 

Lora exclaimed, "It's all about planning! If you get the right people involved and the right people on committees then you'll have a successful event. If you put in a lot of time for an event, you want to get a lot of return." She knows that Canstruction has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of so many in the Southwest Virginia area and she and others are making sure that it does just that.

So come out and join us for the kickoff of the exhibit on October 4th and for more information and volunteer opportunities at the week long event check out:

Below are just a couple of pictures of sculptures that groups have done around the world! Both pictures are property of Canstruction, Inc.

A swan that won an award for Most Cans used!

A large corn on the cob with a snake and fish in the background!

Look for Part 2 in the coming days! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

I think it's going to get worse...

"I think it's going to get worse," said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend, but it doesn't generate much income. They live mostly off government disability checks."

This excerpt is from a recent article in USA TODAY titled 4 in 5 face near-poverty, no work in USA. 

I have been to Buchanan County for the Mobile Food Pantry visit that myself and the two Hunger in America 2014 study interns made in late June. We saw first hand and heard from those in the community the struggles that this area is going through. It was eye-opening and I am so glad that I was able to see and experience this area, as the article describes, "Buchanan County, in southwest Virginia, is among the nation's most destitute based on median income, with poverty hovering at 24%. The county is mostly white, as are 99% of its poor." Seeing this area helped me to better understand the face of poverty in this nation. It is a complex and very large problem that will not be solved overnight.

As Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis put it, "Poverty is no longer a issue of 'them' it's an issue of 'us'. Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need."

I am hopeful that we will find solutions for the many aspects of poverty that affect our nation and I know that I am going to work hard to be a part of this solution and create ideas for positive change. The link to the USA TODAY article is below, I highly encourage you to read it, it provides an invaluable light on the face of poverty in our nation.

There are also plenty of ways you can help at Feeding America Southwest Virginia or at your local food bank through volunteering, making a donation, or spreading awareness of poverty and food insecurity issues.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just being a friend!

Hunger in America 2014 Study at the Care Pantry at South Covington United Methodist Church (UMC) in Covington, VA.

As I was helping to load a heavy box of food into an older lady's car I asked her if the food that she received from the pantry makes an impact in her life. I think it was a question that she was waiting to be asked all day because she really gave me quite the answer. Her face lit up and she explained that the food helped so so much! She continued and said that the food from the pantry helps to stretch her meals throughout the month. She said that she stretches her meals by watching the Food Channel to get ideas and new recipes that she can try - this was exciting to hear as many times people don't get the proper education on preparing meals and cooking. It's easier to get snacks or a quick frozen meal that you can warm up in the microwave, I know that I have been guilty of this many times. But the times where I have prepared meals and used fresh produce have been great. The food is healthier, I feel empowered, and I am learning a new skill. All of these ideas translated to this older lady's experiences and she was making sure to use her food wisely. Hearing about this was very encouraging!

From our conversation I immediately thought of the partnership between Feeding America Southwest Virginia and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). We are working hard to educate people on food use and preparation which shows them that you can indeed "stretch" your food. It is a developing process and innovative programs are constantly being initiated but even though the ideas are new we are continually making headway in southwest Virginia.

In addition to the food she receives from the pantry the lady told me that she goes to the dollar store and gets bread and other inexpensive items for her meals. Her favorite item from the store is liver and she even invited me over for a liver dinner. I wasn't able to make it but I still thanked for the offer! This thought then developed into another reason how the pantry food makes an impact on her life. She said that she thoroughly enjoys coming to the Care Pantry at South Covington UMC for the social aspect. She was excited and was talking the whole time and telling stories while waiting at the pantry. Her goal was to meet new people and make friends and just enjoy the company. She told me that she lives alone and isn't able to get out much so the trip to the food pantry is a much anticipated trip for her to have a little fun and enjoy people and the endless stories that we tell and create!

I must say that it was a privlege to meet this older lady and to hear some of her story. She had moved to Virginia from New York after experiencing a great deal of turmoil and pain at the hand of her family. She was tired of it and decided to start anew in Virginia and she has been doing her best ever since. She was so full of joy and brought joy to others, I felt great after speaking with her and I truly enjoyed our conversation. I was also honored to see that I was working for a nonprofit that was providing a true need and that was such a blessing to this older lady and so many of the other clients at the food pantry in Covington.

As for the Hunger in America study it went really well and it was the best one that I have been to. Every person that we asked to take the survey agreed and so we had a lot of respones which will provide a great deal of data for Feeding America to analyze. This data is crucial and will help us to be able to better serve our partnering agencies, such as the food pantries, in addition to providing better service to the many individuals that rely on us to provide a basic staple for their well being and life.

I walked away from the study realizing that I had learned so much about food insecurity and had made some great new friends, and all I did was ask a few questions. It was amazing to see the doors that opened up when I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the time to learn from someone and invest in their life. It was exciting and I am going to make sure to continue to ask questions and have a passion for learning people's stories in hopes of helping them in any way that I can.

What questions do you ask?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Reality of Child Food Insecurity

Hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (WFP).

This statistic doesn't seem like it could be true but in reality there are 870 million people in the world that do not have enough to eat. The implications of food insecurity are immense, especially harmful to children and cause many long-term consequences. Children that don't receive enough food will have poorer school performance and their cognitive development will be significantly affected, in addition to adverse health affects such as increased risk of illness. Access to food and adequate nutrition for children is of the utmost importance and the best thing that we can do is inform others and provide awareness on the realities of child hunger - the more people that join in the cause, the better possibilities we will have of creating solutions!

Since my focus is on children's programs at Feeding America Southwest Virginia I would like to share with you the reality of food insecurity for children across the world, the United States and in Southwest Virginia.

Throughout the world the term "child hunger" can take on many meanings. Children can be classified as stunted (too short for their age), wasted (too low of weight for their height), or underweight (low weight for their age). [Adapted from]
  • The most recent data from the World Food Programme states that roughly 100 million children in developing countries are underweight and poor nutrition causes 45% of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year [WFP].
  • In addition, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world [WFP]
These statistics seem impossible to overcome but the World Food Programme and many other agencies are facing world hunger head on and have worked to develop many innovative programs that are contributing to the solution.

Information from:

United States
Feeding America recently did a comprehensive study on food insecurity in the United States called Map the Meal Gap 2013 and the data was just released on June 10th. It provides information on the face of hunger in the U.S. at the national, state, and local level with each county across the nation represented. To say that the data is invaluable would be an understatement as it will help Feeding America and other agencies across the nation immensely in the years to come.
  • Across the nation the child food insecurity rate is at 22.4%.
  • The number of food insecure children amounts to 16,658,000. 

It's hard to believe that almost 17 million children in the United States are food insecure and are going without meals and adequate nutrition for their development into healthy adults. Think about that for a moment. If these children aren't fed on a regular basis then they will struggle in school, at home, will have no energy to make friends and play outside, many will be sick often and may develop long term health problems. All of these effects are very real and can all be halted with a simple, regular meal.

Information from:

Southwest Virginia 
The data at the local level varies from county to county across the nation and it helps to provide a great picture of the need for strategic thinking with programs for combating child hunger as the counties differ across the nation. In Feeding America Southwest Virginia's service area the numbers are as follows:
  • The child food insecurity rate for our service area is at 20.4% 
  • The number of food insecure children in our service area is at 48,850.
So, by now I am sure you are asking what is the good news? Well, for Feeding America Southwest Virginia and specifically the Summer Food Service Program I can provide some very good news! In 2012 there were 49 sites with 36,836 meals/snacks served with a total of 2,691 children being fed. These are excellent numbers and they are higher during the school year because of after school feeding and Back Pack  programs.

Information from:

The Good
Even with all of the intimidating numbers and statistics on child food insecurity Feeding America can confidently claim that nearly 14 million children are served food through their programs. This is a large and very positive number in the fight against hunger. In the coming years I am sure that this number will rise as people from all over the United States will rally together to create new programs that will influence this problem at all levels. I have hope and a positive outlook for the future and I hope that you will join me!

Please explore all of the links to learn more about food insecurity in your area and around the world and share your ideas for solving hunger in the comment section of this blog, let's really try to create some excellent dialogue, I would love to hear any and all ideas!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Family in Need

I recently made a visit to a church in Roanoke City that is partnering with us as a summer food service site where they serve a lunch two days a week to 40 - 60 children. It was a great experience and it was fantastic to see lots of children being served in that community! While there, I had the chance to speak with the pastor of the church. I asked him about the area and how the site has been doing in providing meals to children; essentially "Is the program making an impact?"

His first words were very positive and he said that the church has been blessed to be able to partner with Feeding America Southwest Virginia in feeding children. He said that the majority of the children in the area were food insecure and that the lunch would be the only meal that some of the children would get for the day. The meals are truly making a difference in the children's lives.

He continued, saying that the area is struggling and that there is an extreme lack of stability. His definition of stable community is where there are strong family and home foundations - but this was not the case. The pastor said that there is a high turnover of families in the area...many move in and the rent is too high then they soon realize that they can't afford it. Incarceration is also a large factor. He said it separates families and creates splinters in the community. He talked more on these subjects and listed more factors that negatively affect the area, but he soon transitioned to a story.

He began with saying that many families move in from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and northern Virginia. He met one particular family on a Sunday morning at church and he said the story that they shared with him broke his heart. It was a husband and wife who both had great jobs and they were able to support their family of four children. Their lives were soon flipped upside down when they both lost their jobs. They no longer had enough money to pay the bills, their mortgage, or buy enough food and other necessities.

The couple made the decision to sell their house and most of their belongings then relocate to the Roanoke area in search of work and opportunities. Their trip took two weeks and the family of six lived out of the car for the entire trip. Many times they had to stop to ask for help as they needed food, gas, and showers. When they reached Roanoke they came to the church for help and the pastor was more than willing to assist. He said that his congregation really saved this family and that the food provided through the Summer Food Service Program was an important aspect in serving the parents' children. Support and stability for families is crucial in reviving a community but too many times these things are difficult to provide. I could see in the pastor's face that he was willing to accept this challenge and help create stability for this family and others that will come through his church's doors.

Just as this local church helped a family in need there are countless other ways in which a community can be changed for the better. I was excited to hear that Feeding America Southwest Virginia was contributing to that change by providing meals for these kids over the summer.

Please take a look at these other stories on hunger on the Feeding America website:

At Feeding America Southwest Virginia our mission is to feed Southwest Virginia's hungry through a network of partners and engage our region in the fight to end hunger.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Burning Passion: Mobile Food Pantry

I recently have been thinking a great deal about a quote that a coworker shared with me the other day. He said, "Keep your passion on a low burn, that way you won't overreach, burnout, or give up all together." I immediately had the thought that if I keep my passion at a low burn it will go out anyways since it is a weak and small fire, but then I decided to add  the word powerful before burn and I think the addition explains the quote perfectly. A low powerful burn that won't go out, the fuel won't go dry and it will be pursued with an unending vigor. I experienced this low burning passion last Thursday while participating in a Hunger in America 2014 study in Vansant, VA at a Mobile Food Pantry site.

Now before I dive in, let me explain the Mobile Food Pantry program at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. Through a generous grant from The United Company Charitable Foundation, FASWVA was able to purchase a refrigerated semi-truck in March of 2012 to act as the mobile pantry. Its purpose is to provide food to some of the most rural areas in southwest Virginia where people don't have substantial access to food pantries. The results have been great as the mobile pantry has been able to serve 200 - 400 people each time it goes out and it has helped to rally communities around service for those in need while also helping to create awareness of food insecurity in southwest Virginia.

The Mobile Food Pantry parked at an abandoned Food City parking lot in Vansant, VA. There was a large amount of volunteers from the community helping to unload the trailer and help with the food service, it was incredible to see such a great display of support!

The day began at 5:30am when we started out for Vansant, VA, it was myself and the two Hunger Study interns, Chelsea and Katie. From the very start it was unusual to see three interns heading out on their own but the staff at Feeding America Southwest Virginia wanted to make sure that we had the chance to experience a mobile food site. We were told many times that this site would be a very challenging experience and that it would be tough on our emotions. I was excited to go and help at the site but I was also nervous because I didn't know what to fully expect when we got there. Needless to say after 3 hours in the car we arrived to the abandoned Food City building and I couldn't believe what I saw. There were about 150 people in line at 8:45am when we arrived and the actual food service didn't start until 10:00am. In my other trips to stationary food pantries there had never been a large line out the door; maybe about thirty minutes before it opened but never over an hour before the service time. The Mobile Food Pantry driver and volunteers began unloading the truck and setting up tables for the food, it was all very organized  and I could tell everybody was really enjoying the chance to serve. We began our setup of materials as well for the Hunger Study and then I decided to go and talk with those who were standing in line.

The stories were powerful and emotional and I listened to every word.

I talked to an older gentleman who was the first one in line. He was wearing tattered jeans and a plain gray t-shirt that matched his short gray beard. His hands were worn from years of work and his skin was tan and rugged. He was a Vietnam War veteran and had worked for years in the maintenance department at a local company in Vansant after the war. I noticed that he was blind in one eye and through conversation he told me that his eye had been damaged in the war. He then continued and told me that the Vansant area had been a coal mining town since the early 1900s and other than mining, there really weren't any other job opportunities, which resulted in high unemployment. He had a meager income, but said that all of his money went to housing expenses, especially his electric bill, and then money for gas and other bills. After all of this was paid for he spent the rest on food which didn't amount to much. I asked him then if the  mobile food pantry has made an impact on his life? His face lit up and he said that it has helped so much. He looked behind him down the line and said that the food has been making a large impact for everyone. Not only was he sharing his own appreciation, he also looked at the people he knew and those that he didn't and offered a shared gratitude for all of those that were being given food that day. I wish that I could share his name with you and provide you with even more of an intimate picture of the man that I spoke with, he was genuine and was truly thankful for the food that he was receiving. It really hit me in that moment that I was working for a cause that was truly creating change in this world. It was a privilege to talk with that gentleman and I'll never forget our conversation.

From there the food service got under way and the long line of people was begining to file through the tables picking up food that ranged from fresh bread and meats to milk and crisp orange juice. The volunteers had unloaded 12,000 pounds of products, with a majority coming from Food City, the largest grocery store in that area. Food City had just built a new building where they continuously donate food to Feeding America Southwest Virginia and area food pantries. Not only were they donating food, they were also allowing us to use there old abandoned building as a site for the mobile pantry.  Their support truly plays an integral part in tackling the problem of food insecurity.

Volunteers and clients making their way through the tables selecting food. It was raining and the overhang provided by the Food City building was a huge help!

Andy Ballard, the Mobile Food Pantry Driver, and volunteers unloading the truck and packing boxes full of food. It was an organized and efficient effort and none of it could have been done without the help of volunteers from the community!

Along with having the Mobile Food Pantry, Feeding America Southwest Virginia is working to promote educational opportunities through giving out vegetable plants and materials to show people how to grow there own gardens. It's an exciting opportunity!

I spoke with one of the volunteers for a while throughout the day and he really provided me with a vivid picture of the area and the struggles that are present there. He was a retired coal miner who had worked in the mine for 40 years. He now had a good retirement and was making sure to use his time to give back to the community. He asked me where I was from and I said Ohio and that I am currently a student at The Ohio State University. He was a huge Buckeye fan so we made sure to talk about all of the latest sports news coming out of Ohio State; it was nice to get a small taste of home! Our conversation quickly turned more serious when the volunteer told me that Vansant and the surrounding areas were really struggling: he talked about the unemployment and the lack of opportunities. Vansant is a very mountainous area and he said that the mountains have created a tough situation for people in getting access to food and other resources. The roads are in poor condition and when it rains there is usually flooding due to the runoff from the mountains filling rivers and low roadways. He also mentioned a darker fact in that the area was also being heavily affected by drugs. He said that he would see in the local newspaper every month that there was anywhere from 3 to 10 teenagers that had died from drug overdoses. His face was full of pain and he seemed to have a hard time comprehending the fact that he had just shared with me.

This further reinforced for me the stark reality of the very rural areas in southwest Virginia. In many cases the people there are scraping by and are looking for opportunities that simply do not exist. Then something like drugs may come into the picture and further deplete resources and hurt the community as a whole. 

I was feeling a mix of emotions, it was both a sobering but exciting time for me. It hurt to see the pain of the community but it was so great to be able to serve and give food to those who were truly in need of the most basic of resources. I talked to many in that line that day and I asked them all the same question that I asked the older gentleman, "Has the mobile food pantry made an impact in your life?" They all answered with a resounding yes and I could see the authentic appreciation in their responses. 

The Mobile Food Pantry provided by Feeding America Southwest Virginia in partnership with the United Company Charitable Foundation has been a huge blessing. It has helped provide food for thousands of people in the most remote parts of southwest Virginia in addition to empowering communities. It has provided hope and has created an all important opportunity for all of those who spoke of finding one that day.

It was a privilege to see the mobile pantry in action and I can confidently say that it fueled the low burning passion inside of me for years to come. I enjoy serving others and want to provide the real and raw stories of what happens in the field for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. The nonprofit sector is participating in great work and each every day they are creating change in this world and I am blessed and happy to be able to take part in even a small amout of that change.

Education is key and the spread of awareness will only help, so please continue to share my experiences and this blog with friends, coworkers, and family! Thank you! 

For more information access these links:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why do we volunteer?

I had the opportunity to meet with Robert Rogers, the Director of Volunteer Services at Feeding America Southwest Virginia and after walking away from the converation I was completely blown away and really had a better grasp of the thought process behind volunteer management.

Just like with Harry, I asked him, why do people volunteer? He immediately began to think and he listed off many reasons: whether it is for community service hours, an unemployed individual looking to keep a skill set, through a time of grieving where someone has lost a spouse or family member and they are seeking interaction with others to help in that time, or a child is being made to do it by their parents. Then there is, again, the aspect that people want to give back and serve their community in addition to fueling a passion or pursuing a desire. Robert also stated that he feels that volunteerism in the United States is a cultural phenomenon where we embrace the idea of helping others and serving. Through various endeavors and while travelling around Europe he saw that it was unusual for someone to volunteer and that, instead, giving money was encouraged so the organization could provide for themselves through finances. It was interesting to see this perspective and understand that we volunteer for so many reasons above and beyond the fact that we want to give back to our community.

I also asked Robert to share what he does as the Director of Volunteer Services. I was thoroughly surprised and wanted to share some of our conversation with you. First off, there is the traditional job requirements of data management and reports along with recruitment, interviewing and the placement of volunteers. But then there are aspects of interaction and connection. He explained that there is constant human interaction involved through endless amounts of conversation. When people volunteer they are sharing their skills and ideas and they want to be appreciated. This focus on the appreciation of people and helping an individual find where they fit within Feeding America Southwest Virginia and where they can best serve is the main point of the position. He used phrases and terms such as "constant dialogue" and "observation and sensitivity". As the coordinator one must be aware of a person's feelings and aspirations, to which, one focuses on tailoring the volunteer experience so it meets the individual's needs. Because of this attention to detail, volunteers will stay for extended amounts of time or become someone who wants to come in every week - much of this can be attributed to excellent communication between the coordinator and volunteers.

The Kroger Volunteer Center at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. This space was built through a grant from Kroger and it is where all of the volunteer orientations and training take place!

Robert, the Director of Volunteer Services, and I. He was the first person I contacted in pursuing an internship with Feeding America Southwest Virginia and he has been an instrumental part of my experience thus far!

The act of coordinating with volunteers is, again, all about connection and interaction. There has to be a constant assessment of people's needs and being willing to have conversations to help them find where they fit within this organization or point them to an organization where they will feel their passions come alive for service. I believe everyone can volunteer and I think it is great to serve whether through building a house, cleaning up a street, or coming to the food bank to sort food. There is a place out there for everyone where their skills can be used and where they will feel at home in service.

Where do you volunteer?

For more information on volunteering with Feeding America Southwest Virginia please visit:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Stories that Change Us

About fours years ago a gentleman was at a food pantry helping with the Hunger in America study by doing surveys with the clients that were coming in to receive food. For one of the surveys he spoke with an older woman who kindly answered all of the questions but, in addition, she shared her story and reason for being there.

She began and stated that she was a grandmother who had two grandsons - one was 8 and the other was 5 years old. They had both been brought up in a very troubled and rough home and their parents had neglected to take care of them. The parents weren't providing their sons with adequate shelter, clothes, and, most importantly, food and water. Through a series of events the parents were deemed to be unfit to take care of their children so grandmother and grandfather were given custody and took in the two young boys to live with them.

The woman continued and said that when her grandsons first came to their house she weighed them and she found that the 8 year old weighed significantly less than the 5 year old. She knew that this wasn't right. Her older grandson was taller and had grown more but even still he was underweight and the 5 year old was at a good weight for his age. This didn't make sense to her but she soon received an answer from her 8 year old grandson. He said that they didn't eat very often, but when his parents were able to provide some food and they could eat he would always give most of his portion to his younger brother so that he wouldn't be hungry.

When I heard this it really pulled at my emotions, and I thought to myself, "Here was a boy that was 8 years old, just in elementary school, and he was serving as the caring parental figure for his younger brother." He could hear his younger brothers' stomach growling and he knew that he was in pain from the hunger because he was feeling the same thing. But he made the decision to give almost all of his food away and serve his younger brother, sacrificing his own comfort and well-being.

The gentleman was saddened and taken aback by this story, and the grandmother finished and said that from that day she vowed that here grandsons would never be hungry again. She and her husband didn't have much - enough to support themselves - with only a little left over in order to support the boys. But there just wasn't enough for everything, so she was left with the decision to go to the food pantry. And go she did. Through it all, she was going to keep her vow and provide for her grandsons, because no one should go hungry.

I had the opportunity this morning to hear that story firsthand from that gentleman, Harry Van Guilder, a retired professional who was the former Volunteer Coordinator for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. He still volunteers two days a week with the organization he has grown to love. His love and passion for serving stems from stories such as the one he shared. They keep him going and it gives feeling and a great perspective to the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia does. In sharing stories with me, Harry also explained his work as the volunteer coordinator and also provided insight on why people volunteer.

According to the site Energize, Inc., an international training, consulting and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism, they define the word "volunteer" as:

Volunteer, verb - To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations (Ellis).

There are many ways to define volunteer but I think that this definition really captures the essence of the heart behind volunteering. A person is acting out because they see a need and they want to address it with a generous attitude through giving of their time and skills. I asked Harry why he thought people volunteer and he explained that they want to contribute to an organization that impacts a community. They want their time to matter and they realize that helping a nonprofit can make a large impact in their community and in their own lives. There is also a social aspect to it: it's fun and enjoyable to volunteer and serve with others whether it is on a regular basis or only once a year. The nonprofit sector is greatly dependent on volunteers to help with daily operations, events, grant writing, and much more. The time, knowledge and skills provided by volunteers are essentially priceless.

The time spent with Harry this morning was both enlightening and very informative on the aspect of volunteering. Tomorrow I will be meeting with the current Volunteer Coordinator of Feeding America Southwest Virginia and will bring you more detailed information on how this position is organized and gain information on the dual purpose of volunteering in that the nonprofit's mission will be advanced while also engaging the volunteers so that they will have a memorable and worthwhile time.

But for now I want you to consider what you are passionate about.
  • What stories have you heard?
  • What have you experienced firsthand that have formed your thoughts and have driven you to volunteer?
And if you haven't volunteered then search out a nonprofit, church, or other organization that fits your interests and passions. No matter how large or small our skills are we can all serve - it's simple and even the smallest of acts will create a ripple effect that will impact a community.

For more information on volunteering and on opportunities with Feeding America Southwest Virginia please visit:

Defintion from:
Ellis, Susan. "How We Define "Volunteer" for Energize...and What Is Not Volunteering to Us." Energize, Inc. Especially for leaders of volunteers . Energize, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Jun 2013.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

For the kids!

The Summer Food Service Program sites have finally got underway as this week I have had the privilege of visiting the locations to do reviews and interact with the children. It's been long overdue, as during the past two weeks Jackie Cundiff, the Children's Program Manager here at FASWVA, and I have been going to sites to train the members of the partnering agencies that will be acting as the site supervisors. Needless to say, it has been a time filled with a lot of driving and explanation of materials. So let me share one of the more exciting highlights of this week and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Connections Program at Price's Fork Elementary-Blacksburg, VA
I had the opportunity to visit Price's Fork on Tuesday morning and visit the Connections Program which is specifically geared for children to keep them active over the summer through educational activities and games while also creating a time for them to make new friends. The group that I interacted with had children in kindergarten up to 6th grade. When I got there they were enjoying their snack provided by Feeding America Southwest Virginia and I was sure to ask them if they liked it and many of them spoke up and said that it was quite good. This summer we recieved new vendors for the food service programs and so it has provided us with more and better options for the kids. We want the kids to eat but at the same time we want them to enjoy the food as well - something that I am sure all of you can agree with - everyone loves good food! During snack we watched an episode of the Magic School Bus which had a focus on bats so this provided the supervisors with a great segue after the snack to talk about bats. The kids were super fascinated with the echo location ability of bats - where they use sound waves to see instead of using their eyes. From there we moved to the computer lab to focus on the learning objective for the week: Character. The children were tasked to pick their favorite fictional hero from a book or movie and then do research on their character traits and make it into a short presentation that they would give to the class. It was fun to hear about the characters that the kids chose, one young boy chose the Hulk because he liked how he was so strong. Another young boy who loved to laugh chose Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean, a fitting choice as Jack Sparrow could provide for a lot of laughs. The supervisor asked me to pick a character and share it with the kids and so I chose Sully from Monsters, Inc. for his bravery and willingness to always look out for his friends...the kids loved it!

It was a great experience to see kids having fun and learning whether it was about bats, the character traits of their favorite hero, or computer technology in general. Even with all of the fun and knowledge being shared it was also wonderful to see the kids being fed. I could see that these children were learning a lot and were constantly taking in new experiences and the food is an important piece for them in that development of leading healthy and exciting lives. What experiences have you had with child hunger?

The entryway of Price's Fork Elementary, definitely a fun and exciting place full of sensory objects and color. If I was still in elementary school this is where I would want to be!

This experience is just a taste of what is to come as I have visits to multiple Vacation Bible Schools at churches across the area, along with the Summer Enrichment Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of southwest Virginia in Roanoke in addition to many more. So stay tuned and get ready for some more exciting times. If you have any experiences with children at school, in sports, or in an organization I would love to hear about them, please comment!   

For more information on our children's programs take a look at our page at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Go without food...

Hunger in America Study 2014 at Greater Triumph Missionary Baptist Church in Chatham, VA

It was a small space in the bottom level of a church. There was room for people to come in and stand, a serving area for the boxes of food, and a refrigerator and freezer along with a few shelves for storage. Some of the walls weren't completely painted and it smelled a little musty in the small space. They were using paper and pencil to keep track of those that came in to receive their food - compared to some pantries that are using computers and organizational software. Then, the last thing that anyone expected, the power went out from a storm blowing through which meant no lights and the possibility of food spoiling in the freezer and refrigerator. The atmosphere at the pantry felt vulnerable and almost helpless.

But out of this scene three dedicated women that run the church food pantry showed up because they knew that they needed to be there. They wanted to serve and provide food for to those in need - even if only three people came in to receive food that day. The Hunger Study team was only able to approach the second person that came in because of randomness requirement of the survey. The gentlemen respectfully declined and stated that he didn't have enough time to take the survey. As you can see, we didn't have much success in regards to the Hunger Study but that is part of the experience. There are times where we will have the chance to approach 20 to 30 people to take the survey and we gain a ton of data...then there are other times like in Chatham where there is no data to be taken and it could be deemed a failure.

But was it a failure? For me, it was a success. I asked questions and observed - I found out that the Greater Triumph food pantry has been in operation for 40 years; That it is entirely ran by volunteers from the church and many times they scrape by in finding help, money, and food but through it all they continue to serve. I also asked how many people they serve in a week - they said that it is anywhere between 3 and 14. My first thought was, only 14? That's it? The last pantry visit I made in Danville, VA served 150 people in one day. But with that kind of thinking I would see 14 people go without food....go without food...think about that for a moment. The consequences of this happening are immense and herein lies the mission of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, "Our mission is to feed Southwest Virginia's hungry through a network of partners and engage our region in the fight to end hunger."

The mission is to feed people and engage the community and that is why we help small food pantries such as the one at Greater Triumph Missionary Baptist Church. Our network of food pantries greatly varies across the southwest Virginia area with some feeding hundreds of people a month and then some feeding 20. But at the end of the day the large numbers don't matter - if it was just 1 person being fed then that would be a success. No one should go without food...and that statement is what I and many others here at Feeding America Southwest Virginia are trying to achieve.

I have copied a couple of links below to the food safety website for proper handling during the event of a power outage. While we were at the food pantry we were making sure that all foods that were frozen or refrigerated were safe to give out. The last thing we want to happen is for someone to get sick. I hope you find the information useful!

Refrigerated food during power outages:
Frozen food and power outages:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Love the Problem!

I saw an interesting quote on Twitter yesterday that really struck me...

"Focus more on falling in love with the problems you want to solve rather than your initial ideas." -Eric Paley

So many times we come up with ideas and keep coming up with more ideas to fix problems but then these ideas are never implemented. It highlights an aspect where many of us are dreamers and wish to travel, maybe start a business or nonprofit, or we seek to make a lot of money so that we can give it away through charity. But as I have seen with myself, these dreams stay dreams and never reach reality. That's what this quote really hits at... if you come up with an idea that will help solve a problem, then run with it and do your very best to execute it and bring it to fruition. If that idea doesn't work, then think of a new one. There are many problems out there waiting to be solved!

It all circles back to "loving the problem". If we love it and long for it to be fixed, then we will come up with a multitude of ideas. Many of them may not work but there is a good chance you will find the one that does. Then there could be some real-world change.

What problems do you love?

Food insecurity is a problem that we are trying to solve at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. We encourage ideas and always love help!

Monday, June 10, 2013


A nonprofit can encompass many different terms. Whether it be charity, philanthropy, social good, impact, finances, mission, vision...the list could go on. One thing I know for sure and something that I have seen through varying experiences with nonprofits is that there is always a new obstacle to get over each time that you walk into the office. These obstacles can be donor relations, securing funds, coordinating with volunteers, and the continual management of staff and the board. All of these and more call for a great amount of flexibility and perseverance in order for a nonprofit to remain successful and advance in their mission. But these obstacles can also provide for a large amount of uncertainty.    

This morning I met with Pamela Irvine, the President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia. I learned a lot and it was very enlightening to see her point-of-view of the state of food insecurity in Southwest Virginia and our nation. Honestly, it is a glaring and very large problem but, today, there is much work being done and innovative processes being put in place to combat the problem of hunger. One such process is simply viewing a food bank with a different mindset. Instead of viewing it as a warehouse where food comes in and then is shipped out, it is viewed as a multi-million dollar food distribution system that is complex and sophisticated. This food system calls for business principles to manage finances and for streamlined logistics that help in the distribution of an estimated 22 million pounds of food from Feeding America Southwest Virginia each year. It also calls for accurate record keeping to ensure accountability with partner agencies and the clients they serve to satisfy various regulatory groups. Then there is development which strives each and every day to secure funding through grants, private donations, partnerships, and fundraising events, while also being sure to create awareness through creative and effective marketing. All of this is part of a strategic plan which is used to make sure that FASWVA is moving forward and achieving their goals in combating hunger.

The business concept and principles, as well as the programming, are really good. But, then, the reality that Feeding America Southwest Virginia is a nonprofit comes to light and the uncertainty of it all shows through. There may be days where it's a struggle to find funds to keep a cherished program alive. A truck that hauls food may break down, the roof to the food bank may begin leaking, a large supplier of food can no longer give, or an employee decides to retire or leave. The uncertainty creeps in and provides for very challenging moments in the nonprofit world. For me, this is where the life of it all is - the opportunity to participate in a realm that is full of unexpected obstacles but that all lead to serving others and providing for a community in need. I asked Pamela this morning what she wished she would have known when she started working for food banks, something she could share with me as I am just getting started in my journey.

And she said, It's really hard feeding people and it takes a lot of work, but in the end it is so rewarding to see the uncertainty turn to miraculous moments of change at Feeding America Southwest Virginia and among the so many people that we serve.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Summer Food Service Program!

It's Friday and my first full week is drawing to an end! It has been filled with meetings, excellent conversations, reading, exploring the Salem and Roanoke, VA areas, in addition to continuing to learn the inner workings of the Feeding America Southwest Virginia food bank. Along with participating in all of these varying activities I also had the chance to experience a Hunger Study as mentioned in my previous post and also take part in site training for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for children. Now again, just as I explained the Hunger in America 2014 study, let me explain this excellent program as well.

When school is in session food insecure children have access to free or reduced price breakfast and lunch programs, as well as after school programs that provide meals and snacks. The Summer Food Service Program was established to ensure that food insecure children continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer break.  Free meals that meet Federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of food insecure children. In order for a site to be eligible to participate in the program it must be located in a school attendance area where 50 % or more of the children residing in the area are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. These programs across the southwest Virginia area are all about feeding kids, but the sites also include programming to provide an educational aspect for the kids, whether it be learning technology in a computer lab, making crafts, or going on field trips. This added benefit provides an avenue for the children to learn more about themselves and others through educational activities in addition to being fed a healthy meal.

In my time with FASWVA this summer I am focusing the majority of my attention to these programs through training the SFSP sites then returning to monitor and complete a review of the sites to make sure that they are following specific guidelines set by the USDA and Feeding America. Now, I can imagine from my explanation that this doesn't sound like the most exciting position as it may seem that I will just be filling out large stacks of paperwork. Quite the contrary - I am very excited to be able to work with these sites and interact with the children! One site that I visited yesterday was the Summer Enrichment Program at a local church in the Roanoke area. The enrichment program is run by volunteers and they serve 100 children per day for the whole month of July. While going through the training and informing them of the guidelines for the program I could see that with about 3 weeks before the start of their program that they were eager to get started. They're incredibly excited and they can't wait to serve!

Over the summer I will be making many posts on the Summer Food Service Program highlighting the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia is doing in the area through the feeding of children along with the programming of the sites. I am passionate about service and working with children and I can't wait to see the impact when these two passions align.

More information about the Summer Food Service Program and other programs can be viewed at:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hunger in America 2014

Hunger Study at God's Storehouse in Danville, VA
On Monday June 3rd, myself and 2 other Feeding America Southwest Virginia employees took a trip to Danville, VA to perform the Hunger Study at a local food pantry, God's Storehouse. Now before I dive into this more, let me explain the details of the study.
Hunger in America, also known as the Hunger Study, is the largest study of charitable food assistance in America. Hunger in America 2014 is the most recent in a series of Hunger Studies, which are conducted every four years. Feeding America is the primary sponsor of this study, with generous funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The purpose of the Hunger in America study is two-fold. First, it will collect information on the current work of the Feeding America network of food banks. This includes collecting data from agencies such as food pantries that receive food and grocery items from food banks and from the actual clients they serve. This information will help Feeding America, and its national network of 200 food banks, to better understand the agencies they work with to provide hunger relief. Second, the study will also identify issues faced by both agencies and the clients they serve.  This will enable Feeding America to better advocate for government assistance and support fundraising efforts by better educating their donors and the public about the scope of services provided by food banks.
My visit to the God's Storehouse food pantry was the first time I witnessed programs for food insecure families and individuals. It was a gripping experience and I got a first hand account of the problems that Southwest Virginia has with food insecurity and access. I can honestly say that I went into the experience with many preconceptions of the people that I would see and the interactions that I would be a part of. But these were blown out of the water as I soon noticed that there were people being served from all walks of life. One client in particular that stuck out to me was a man who had come in for the first time to receive food. When he first walked through the door he seemed upset and frustrated that he was there as he was being asked questions about his eligibility to receive food. He was randomly selected to participate in the Hunger Study, so I approached him. As soon as I started talking his face lit up and he was excited to help. He explained to me that he had just lost his job and had been doing his very best to pay bills and that he had just spent a few hundred dollars to fix his car. Then before he knew it, he had depleted his finances and didn't have enough money to buy food to support his family. And through all of that he was open and willing to participate in the study in order to inform Feeding America on how to better serve the pantries and clients they support. Filling out a survey isn't a very exciting prospect but he knew that filling it out would play a small but very significant part in a larger picture of service.
It was a very humbling experience and I know that it will stick with me for the rest of my life. In moving forward, I can confidently say that I am excited to participate in more studies and participate in the many other opportunities that will come with being a part of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Find out more about Hunger in America at:

There is always a beginning...

Everything has happened so fast and I am beyond excited to start my summer internship with Feeding America of Southwest Virginia or FASWVA. The opportunities that have been presented to me by this organization have been endless and I am honored to be able to participate in this special work of helping communities and creating lasting change. This blog will be a journal of sorts of my time and experiences in working on the Summer Food Service Programs and also helping to continue the development efforts of FASWVA. So here goes to a summer filled with learning experiences, challenges, and many changes all wrapped in fun and exciting times. I know one thing for sure, is that I will walk away from this experience with many lasting memories.