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Central Virginia Food Bank provides hunger relief during pandemic

Feed More, a hunger-relief organization serving Central Virginians, has seen an increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization was serving roughly 161,000 food-insecure individuals in March. The nonprofit assisted more than 241,000 food-insecure individuals in June.

Capital News Service

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By David Tran

When COVID-19 was declared a national emergency at the beginning of March, Feed More, a hunger-relief organization serving Central Virginians, was serving roughly 161,000 food-insecure individuals.

Fast forward to early June, Feed More was assisting more than 241,000 food-insecure individuals, according to Doug Pick, CEO and president of Feed More.

“It (the pandemic) increased the number of folks that weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from by about 50%,” Pick said.

That 50% increase, he said, was largely from those who were newly unemployed as a result of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity throughout Virginia and across the country. With 2020 coming to a close, food insecurity is lingering in many Virginia households as hunger-relief organizations and local officials scramble to curb one of the pandemics’ consequences.

Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as limited or uncertain availability or accessibility to nutritionally adequate food. Nearly 10% of all Virginians — or almost 843,000 people — are struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nationwide hunger-relief organization.

An additional 447,000 Virginians will experience food insecurity because of the coronavirus pandemic, Feeding America estimates. Across the country, millions of Americans have lined up in their cars or by foot for miles at food banks awaiting their next meal.

Nationwide, food banks also have to grapple with the dilemma of increased demand while maintaining their agencies network. In 2019, Feed More distributed about 32 million pounds of food, Pick said. This year, he estimates the organization will distribute between 40 to 44 million pounds of food. The nonprofit distributes food with the help of agencies, including churches, emergency shelters, rehab centers, soup kitchens and other organizations.

“We worried about that network collapsing because most of those agencies are run by volunteers, and a lot of them are seniors,” Pick said. At one point this year, Feed More lost 13% of its 270 agencies.

Feed More did not witness the phenomenon of long lines other regions experienced and was able to meet the community’s food crisis, Pick said.

“We put out some guiding principles early on that said: stick with our infrastructure, never abandon the infrastructure you built unless you have to,” Pick said. “So, we didn’t panic.”

Those guiding principles upheld Feed More’s mission while adhering to COVID-19 safety precautions.

Feed More’s Meals on Wheels program usually serves meals daily, but it is now delivering these meals frozen, once a week. The organization’s community kitchen that preps approximately 20,000 meals a week now is divided into two kitchen spaces – a prepping kitchen and a cooking kitchen – in two separate buildings, according to Pick.

Recent research found that the number of families who experienced food insecurity increased by 20% in the United States as a result of the pandemic. The study was co-authored by Elizabeth Adams, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center.

“We all know (the pandemic) had so many profound effects across so many aspects of people’s lives and has gone on for a long time,” Adams said.

The study methodology surveyed households across the country in late April and May with different food security levels – high food security, low food security and very low food security – about food consumption during the pandemic.

The survey saw a 73% increase in home cooking across all food security levels. The amount of in-home food availability increased 56% for food-secure families but decreased 53% for low food-secure families.

“For very low food-security families, we saw an increase in pressure to eat,” Adams said, “which means that parents are pressuring their children to eat more.”

Adams said she hopes the government takes notice of the data on how widespread food insecurity is across the country, which she said disproportionately affects low-income Black and Hispanic families.

While bringing awareness to the importance of government assistance programs and other food assistance initiatives, Adams called for these programs to “really up the benefit that they are providing at this time, because we see that a lot more people likely need them.”

Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, saw an increase in enrollment during the initial months of the pandemic’s spread in the United States, reported the New York Times. According to data collected by the New York Times, SNAP grew 17% from February to May, three times faster than any prior three-month period.

In March, 687,984 Virginians were enrolled on food stamps. That number jumped to 746,608 the following month, an 8.5% increase, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Since March, eligible Virginians have been granted SNAP emergency benefits during the pandemic, according to The Virginia Department of Social Services. The agency recently expanded these benefits through December, with more than 245,000 households eligible for emergency benefits.

The state recently launched the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger initiative that seeks to end hunger by developing policies, programs and partnerships.

Feed More and its partners had a stable food supply and community support because of government assistance, Pick said. Such assistance includes the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Food banks, such as Feed More, and other nonprofits were able to give out family-sized boxes of produce and meat products that the department purchased from farmers and distributors affected by the closure of restaurants and other food-service businesses.

Northam also announced in November $7 million in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funding. The funding will be allocated to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, which Feed More is a member.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the already serious problem of food insecurity in Virginia and across the country,” Northam stated in a press release. “This funding will help Virginia food banks and other food assistance programs meet the increased demand for their services and ensure every Virginian has continued access to nutritious food during these challenging times.”

Feed More will use its allocated $1 million to provide refrigeration, freezer, racking and vehicles to its partner agencies.

However, Pick said he is concerned for the following year as the pandemic continues. He said there needs to be long-term government policies to address food insecurities beyond food banks’ control.

“The food banks have always been here for emergency purposes. When people get to a tight bind,” he said.

For now, Pick said Feed More will continue its best to provide food assistance to Central Virginians.

“The need is out there,” Pick said. “The jobs are not coming back overnight, and this (food insecurity) is just going to continue on.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Government

A quirky ‘yield to pedestrians’ sign on Brookland Park Boulevard is serving as an experiment in driver behavior

An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

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An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

After a yield for pedestrians sign was placed in the middle of Brookland Park Boulevard at Richmond-Henrico Turnpike, intrepid citizens, and Reddit user AndrewTheGovtDrone specifically, have documented drivers’ awareness (or lack thereof) of the sign, placed hats, balloons, and other items on or around the sign to see if or how it affects driver behavior, and witnessed it be struck by vehicles more than 30 times – and those were just the incidents caught on a video camera set up for a mere 16 hours.

Some stats about the sign and what affected driver behavior from the original post:

General Stats

The videos were taken on Thursday, April 8th (4/8/21). Saturday, April 10th (4/10/21) and Monday, April 12th (4/12/21). Altogether, the videos captured over 16 hours of intersection activity. The below stats are derived from the review of that footage. During this period:

  • 655 vehicles made the left turn off of Richmond-Henrico Tpk onto Brookland Park Blvd.

  • Of the 655 vehicles, 29 were “Commercial vehicles”( i.e. trucks, vans, uHauls, box-trucks, delivery trucks, buses, etc.). Pickup trucks and SUVs were not considered “Commercial vehicles” unless they were towing a trailer.

  • The sign was struck at least 22 times during these three days. It is entirely possible that additional collisions happened before the camera was deployed and/or after the camera died.

  • No commercial vehicles ever struck the the sign. All were able to navigate the intersection without colliding with the pedestrian sign.

  • Based on the data, drivers turning left onto BPB navigate the intersection without issue 96.6% of the time. In other words, the overwhelming majority of drivers are able to make a proper and safe turn. Collisions were not related to type of car being driven as all car types were shown to be capable of making the turn successfully if driven correctly.

  • During this period, 229 pedestrians were recorded crossing the intersection. This is likely a significant undercount due to the placement of the camera. The majority of pedestrians were bikers and dog-walkers.

Additional Information
  • As silly as the balloons were, they had a significant positive impact on driver behavior. Prior to the balloons, the sign was hit six (6) times on Monday. Following the balloon placement, the sign was hit only one (1) time.

  • Interestingly, drivers seemed to make the turn “most appropriately” (i.e. a squared-off turn) during high-traffic periods. When there was oncoming traffic, users took extra precaution to not cross the yellow lines and complete their turn “inside” the intersection. Drivers were generally more “reckless” when the roads were open.

  • The majority of pedestrians using the intersection crossed in the intersection on the “other” crosswalk, the one not being desecrated. However, the crosswalk that our champion guards is high-volume for users of the bus system.

  • At least one (1) couple hung out at the intersection for about 30 minutes waiting to see someone run our sign over. Fortunately for our sign and unfortunately for them, no one trampled him.

  • There were either two (2) separate Carvana deliveries observed or someone returned their Carvana vehicle a few days after receiving it. I’d love to get to the bottom of this.

  • As many have anecdotally reported, drivers seem unsure about what is expected of them when they approach these signs. Some slow down, most carry on without changing behavior, a small subset come to a complete stop. The City may do well to better communicate the expectations for both drivers and pedestrians related to the signs.

Based on what I saw, the takeaway is pretty clear: the sign is not the problem. #RVASIGNGANG #SIGNMEUP

As one commenter said in the original post, data is sexy, and while these experiments are entertaining, the more important outcome is that it’s all bringing attention to Richmond’s lack of pedestrian infrastructure and drivers’ carelessness at particularly nefarious intersections such as this one.

You can follow along with the sign’s saga here. A a few photos from the great experiment are below.

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Events

Richmond Flying Squirrels opening single-game ticket sales April 19th

Individual game tickets for the first four homestands of the 2021 Richmond Flying Squirrels season will go on sale on Monday, April 19 at 9 a.m., the team announced. Fans who have vouchers or credits from tickets for the 2020 season will have first access to redeem them through Friday, April 16 at 5 p.m.

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Individual game tickets for the first four homestands of the 2021 Richmond Flying Squirrels season will go on sale on Monday, April 19 at 9 a.m., the team announced. Fans who have vouchers or credits from tickets for the 2020 season will have first access to redeem them through Friday, April 16 at 5 p.m.

A limited number of tickets will be available for purchase online at SquirrelsBaseball.com/Tickets, by phone at 804-359-FUNN (3866) or at the Flying Squirrels ticket offices at The Diamond.

Tickets for the Flying Squirrels’ first four homestands will be available, including the May 4-9 series against the Hartford Yard Goats, the May 18-23 series against the Bowie Baysox, the June 1-6 series against the Altoona Curve and the June 8-13 series against the Harrisburg Senators.

The full 2021 Flying Squirrels schedule can be found here. Tickets for the remaining 2021 home games will be available at a later date.

Under current guidelines from Major League Baseball of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Flying Squirrels will have limited capacity, socially distanced seating available at The Diamond. Commonwealth of Virginia health and safety guidelines currently allow for outdoor venues to open at 30 percent total capacity, which for The Diamond is 2,943 fans. All fans will be required to wear a mask or face covering at all times except while actively eating or if a health condition precludes you from doing so.

“We are so excited to be back, even though we never left and were a big part of the community over the last year,” Flying Squirrels CEO Todd “Parney” Parnell said. “The Squirrels taking the field again on May 4 will be a big step for community healing. We are not through COVID yet, and we will be enacting protocols to allow for a safe environment for everyone at The Diamond. With limited capacity, tickets will be more sought after than ever. We ask fans for their patience as we work through this unusual process.”

Fans who previously received vouchers or credits for tickets purchased for the 2020 season, including individual game tickets, will have priority access to redeem their vouchers or credits for 2021 tickets. Priority redemptions will begin on Monday, April 12 at 9 a.m. and run through Friday, April 16 at 5 p.m. and can be completed by phone at 804-359-FUNN (3866) or at the Flying Squirrels ticket offices at The Diamond.

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Arts & Entertainment

Weekly pop-up market coming to the Diamond every Saturday beginning April 10th

River City Festivals is partnering with The Richmond Flying Squirrels to present a new weekly Popup Market that will be held Saturdays at The Diamond in Richmond, beginning April 10th from 10 am-4 pm.

RVAHub Staff

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River City Festivals is partnering with The Richmond Flying Squirrels to present a new weekly Popup Market that will be held Saturdays at The Diamond in Richmond, beginning April 10th from 10 am-4 pm.

PopUp Market at The Diamond will feature dozens of rotating artisans, craft, and other local business vendors as well as food and dessert sales and beer and wine. Each week will showcase a new lineup of vendors including Woodworking, Art & Homemade, Activities & Games, Clothing, Jewelry & Accessories, Kitchen & Beverage, Beauty Supplies & Services, Pet & Pet Supplies, Kids Games & Activities, Desserts, Beer & Wine, Locally Grown Products, CBD, Non-Profit & Cause Based, and more, according to organizers.

The full lineup of participating vendors can be viewed at RiverCityFestivals.com. Local vendors and other businesses interested in participating can find more information and register at the same website.

PopUp Market at The Diamond will be held rain or shine in the “Blue Lot” directly next to The Diamond located at 3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.

All COVID guidelines will be strictly adhered to according to the then-current requirements and guidelines.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels are the host organization for the PopUp Market, River City Festivals is the organizer and promoter, proceeds from the event will go towards Giving Local, helping to support small businesses.

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