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Lots of people at table in fight to end food insecurity

An estimated 10% of Virginians were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic; that percentage increased to 22% between April and May 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

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By Grace Bost and Katharine DeRosa

The founders of Fonticello Food Forest bent down under the picnic table to pick edible chickweed leaves and lavender flowers. Moments later they were running to their neighbors’ aid – some of their chickens were loose.

Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan founded the outdoor space, which serves as a free source of fresh and perishable food for community members. The food is donated or grown on site, the pair said. The property is located in Carter Jones Park, south of the James River in Richmond.

“This is not charity work,” Price said. “This is just work.”

Price and Sullivan are part of a larger effort to mitigate food insecurity and food waste across Virginia.

Food insecurity means a household lacks access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An estimated 10% of Virginians were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic; that percentage increased to 22% between April and May 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

Grassroots efforts

Nationally, food insecurity went unchanged at 10.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to the USDA. However, food pantry usage increased between those two years.

More than 4% of families used food pantries in 2019 and, almost 7% of families reported using a food pantry in 2020, according to USDA. The 2021 data was not available as of mid-April, according to USDA.

Food pantry usage is higher among those who experience food insecurity, according to USDA.

Local grocery stores and nonprofit organizations such as Feed More food bank provide food for the Fonticello Food Forest, Price and Sullivan said. They have built contacts with store employees to help acquire leftover food; one method also deployed by the food sharing organization Food Not Bombs where Sullivan also works.

“We’re trying to go and establish relationships and understanding of what we’re trying to do, and the impact that it’s giving to families and to folks that need the food,” Price said, “Especially as cost continues to rise but waste doesn’t seem to be decreasing.”

Over 816,000 tons of surplus food was sent to the landfill in Virginia in 2019, according to data from ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste across the U.S. That includes food surplus from manufacturing, retail, food service, farming and residential sources. The food that Fonticello Food Forest saves from waste is a tiny piece of the billions of pounds of food thrown away every day, Sullivan said.

“This is not the better world,” Sullivan said. “This is better than it would be if it was all going in the trash, but it’s not the ideal.”

RVA Community Fridges works to increase access to fresh, locally-grown food, according to Taylor Scott, the mutual aid nonprofit’s founder. The program works to keep 10 established fridges in the Richmond area stocked with free food. Scott founded RVA Community Fridges in 2020 after wanting to redistribute surplus tomatoes she grew in her home garden.

Mutual aid is the principle of serving one’s community to meet the immediate needs of community members, according to GlobalGiving, a nonprofit organization that connects other nonprofits with donors and companies.

The goal is to add more fridges in food deserts, areas that are far from grocery stores and have limited access to affordable and fresh food.

The newest fridge was established at Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen—a restaurant in the Fulton Hill neighborhood—after community members highly requested it. The area is a food desert lacking basic infrastructure, according to Scott.

Providing food for the Fulton Hill community has been rewarding, Scott said. Over 60% of the neighborhood’s population is Black, and 10% are over age 65, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Scott wants to add more fridges in communities of color. Black individuals make up 29% of the population of Richmond and Petersburg, but account for 48% of people experiencing poverty, according to United Way, an organization that funds nonprofits in the Richmond area. Latino individuals make up 6% of the population but account for 15% of individuals experiencing poverty, according to the same data.

Black Space Matters

The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in 2020 started a collaboration with Duron Chavis, an urban farmer and community activist, to highlight issues of food insecurity. Chavis grew food in the vacant lot outside the museum that was later distributed. The project also highlighted the importance of Black community spaces to have conversations about food justice.

People cannot discuss food insecurity without discussing the issue of land use, Chavis said, because those who do not have access to healthy food often don’t have access to land to grow that food.

“Our work is about reaching people’s dignity and their ability to be self-determining and to make decisions for themselves that increase their health and increase access to healthy food without hoping on some outside resources to come in and make everything better for them,” Chavis said.

Governments could create something like an office dedicated to urban agriculture, but Richmond hasn’t established such an office, Chavis said.

Mark Davis, founder of Real Roots Food Systems, also is working to expand access to locally-grown food. The organization’s goal is for people to know where their food comes from and experiment with ways to obtain food that doesn’t involve purchasing items.

“I think it’s a special thing to be in a cashless exchange in times like these, to create a resiliency in communities like this,” Davis said recently when interviewed for the “Black Space Matters” Season Two documentary series. 

Davis said that he grows food on land in Hanover County, owned by Richmond-based First Baptist Church. The church then donates the food to food pantries and other outlets. RealRoots wants to create less waste in landfills and meaningful collection of research around waste diversion.

Legislative action

Virginia legislators are also enacting laws to help support access to local agriculture. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, introduced House Bill 2068 in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly session to connect local farmers to local consumers, he said.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by both chambers in 2021, established the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Grant Program. The program created grants to support infrastructure and other projects to support local farming. The grants are available on a competitive basis and award up to $25,000 per grant, according to the bill.

Some examples of ways the grants have been used include flash freezing produce, canning farmed food and transferring farmed food to wholesale markets, Rasoul said.

“So, it’s all about trying to get that local food from the farm to the market, and at the same time reducing our [carbon] footprint,” Rasoul said.

Rasoul introduced HB 323 this past session to double the program’s available grant money from $25,000 to $50,000. Both chambers in the General Assembly also passed this measure unanimously.

The grant program awarded eight grants in December 2021 to various food infrastructure projects. Two of the projects involve improving farmer’s markets, two involve meat processors and two involve upgrading local canning systems, according to the Virginia Department for Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Campus connections

Food insecurity worsened because of COVID-19, according to data from Feeding America. However, data suggest food insecurity was a problem among college students before the pandemic.

Youngmi Kim, associate professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, researched food insecurity among college students before the onset of COVID-19. She found that 35% of VCU students experienced food insecurity.

This finding inspired environmental studies professor John Jones to dream up a miniature version of the main food pantry on campus, which began in 2014 and is located inside the University Student Commons at VCU.

Little Ram Pantries launched in October 2021 in various locations around campus. People can take however much of the nonperishable items they need and donate as much food as they can. Jones had the idea for the effort when he came across a small food pantry in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond, he said. The effort mirrors the “little free pantry” movement spawned from little free libraries seen in neighborhoods around the U.S.

One aspect preventing people from using the main food pantry on campus is the stigma associated with food pantries, according to Jones. He wanted to employ the Little Ram Pantries as a way to eliminate the stigma surrounding using resources, he said.

“Let’s try to make this so visible on campus that it fades into the background,” Jones said.

Jones received program funding from the Office of Community Engagement and VCU Service Learning, and has support from the school’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation. Each box has a sensor to track when the boxes are opened and closed for Jones’ research.

Jones found students interact with the Little Ram Pantries at over twice the rate they visit the main campus food pantry. The main food pantry on campus receives about 34 visits per week, Jones said, while the satellite version he launched receives about 75. This success led to him expanding the program by creating more locations.

“I think that the data that we have is very promising,” Jones said. “And I think that with some tweaking, I think the model could be very effective on other campuses.”

Professors from the University of Alabama and the University of West Georgia reached out to him about starting their own version of the program, Jones said. He wants to launch a website that details best practices for miniature food pantries, he said.

Despite the success of the Little Ram Pantries and other food pantry models, Jones said food pantries are not a solution to food insecurity.

“If our society wants to be serious about fixing the underlying issue as to why people are hungry, then we need to look at the issue of why people aren’t being paid enough,” Jones said.

Fonticello Food Forest founders Price and Sullivan helped round up the neighbor’s loose chickens and returned to finish the interview.

Efforts to combat food insecurity are notable, they said, but shouldn’t be necessary.

“In a truly just world and a truly reciprocal, mutual-aid world, there wouldn’t be this food waste to be redistributed and folks would be more connected to the food process,” Price said. “We understand that that’s not such an easy thing, to just suddenly flip a switch on, so you do what you do in the meantime.”

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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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New Richmond 911 system aims to change call-taking, improve emergency response

With the new system, the department’s 911 call-takers will follow a structured decision tree when questioning those who call or text 911 for emergency assistance.

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A new system to improve emergency response will change the way Richmond callers provide information to 911 beginning this week.

The Richmond Department of Emergency Communications went live with the new protocol system at 10:00 AM on October 10th.

With the new system, the department’s 911 call-takers will follow a structured decision tree when questioning those who call or text 911 for emergency assistance. This system assists in making sure that the right response is sent as quickly as possible. It also makes sure that responders get the updated information they need while en route and that callers receive consistent, clear instructions on what to do until the responders arrive to keep everyone safe.

It is not clear whether the new system was put in due to recent citizen complaints about 911 calls going unanswered in certain instances.

“It is very important that callers understand that this standard for questioning does not slow down the response in any way,” said Stephen Willoughby, director of the Department of Emergency Communications and coordinator of emergency management for the City of Richmond.

“Just as before in emergencies, we will dispatch police officers and firefighters as soon as we know the location of the emergency and the type of help needed,” Willoughby said. ‘It is important that callers stay on the line and answer the questions in the order they are asked to provide additional information and get vital instructions that could save a life.”

Information that callers provide is automatically sent to dispatchers and first responders, usually while they are on the way to the location of the emergency. Depending on the type of emergency, callers may be asked for descriptions of people, vehicles and weapons involved to help first responders know what to expect once they are on scene and to help solve crimes. Call-takers also provide pre-arrival instructions to help the caller and bystanders assist themselves and others and to reduce threats.

With this system, call-takers and dispatchers follow nationally recognized standards and research-based protocols that are continually reviewed and updated by top medical professionals and associations, according to the private company providing it, Priority Dispatch.

Call-takers and dispatchers of the Department of Emergency Communications received extensive training with the Priority Dispatch System™ and continual quality improvement. All emergency dispatchers who work on the new system are certified by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™) and must recertify every two years, complete 24 hours of continuing dispatch education and pass all requirements for IAED recertification.

“At the IAED, our goal is to help the emergency dispatcher do his or her job better,” said Jeff Clawson, chair of the Rules Committee for the IAED Medical Council of Standards. “This system increases safety and effectiveness for the first responders and creates better outcomes for callers.”

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Kickers

PHOTOS & GAME SUMMARY: Kickers Steamroll Defending Champs Omaha

In front of a record-breaking crowd of 4,886 the Kickers defeated Union Omaha 3-0.

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OFFICIAL KICKERS SUMMARY

RICHMOND KICKERS

     3

20′ Bolanos, 70′ Terzaghi (Bolanos), 76′ Terzaghi (Bolanos)

UNION OMAHA

     0

The Richmond Kickers (11-7-5, 38 pts) moved back into first place in USL League One as they defeated Union Omaha (8-3-10, 34 pts) with a 3-0 shutout in front of the largest crowd this season of 4,886 attendees. Jonathan Bolanos tallied one goal and two assists and Emiliano Terzaghi scored two goals in the second half.

In just the second minute of the match, the Kickers were presented with an opportunity with a set piece after Terzaghi was taken down just outside the box. Nil Vinyals bent his free kick over the wall but it went just outside the net not far from the near post of the goal.

In the 20th minute, Bolanos took the ball down the line and found Ethan Bryant who took a one-touch shot on goal. Rashid Nuhu made the initial save, but Bolanos made the follow-up run and put the ball in the back of the net giving the Kickers the lead.

The Kickers looked for more and in the 32nd minute, Bolanos made a back heel pass to Stuart Ritchie who took the shot going across the mouth of the goal.

The second half started off strong with an opportunity in the 49th minute, as Terzaghi received the ball past midfield, dribbled up the field, and took a shot, going just wide of goal.

In the 64th minute, Ethan Vanacore-Decker received the ball after a poor header from the Omaha defender and dribbled the ball into the box past the defense for a one-on-one with Nuhu, however, the keeper was able to make the save.

Terzaghi was then able to capitalize on two goal opportunities within five minutes of each other.

In the 70th minute, the Kickers earned a free kick which was taken by Vinyals. The ball found Bolanos on the near-post run, and he was able to pass the ball behind him to a crashing Terzaghi who put the ball into the back of the net at the near post.

Bolanos and Terzaghi connected once more in the 75th minute. Owayne Gordon found Bolanos in a wide open space in the middle of the field. Bolanos then took the ball towards the goalmouth and kept it away from his marker. Bolanos drew the keeper out and found Terzaghi sitting at the top of the box wide open to take a shot for his second of the night.

The Roos were up 3-0 and kept looking for more towards the end of the match.

The final opportunity came in the 90th minute. Bolanos dribbled the ball into the middle and found Gordon just wide of him. Gordon cut back to lose the defender, then took the shot which was deflected off the Omaha defender. Vinyals crashed onto the deflection but his shot went just over the crossbar.

The win marked the largest margin of victory in the series for either team and was also Omaha’s largest-ever defeat in league play since joining in 2020. Terzaghi and Bolanos extended their leads as the league’s leading scorer and assister, respectively. Terzaghi is now ahead by three goals in the golden boot race with 14 goals scored and Bolanos has two more assists than second-place with 9 assists.

The Kickers finish their current homestand on Wednesday, Sept. 7th when they host South Georgia Tormenta FC. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. A special in-stadium will begin when doors open at 5 p.m. and last until kickoff at 6:30 p.m. that includes $3 cans of Heineken and $8 wine. Tickets for the match are available at richmondkickers.com/tickets.

Stay up to date with the latest news from the Kickers at RichmondKickers.com and on the official team app.

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Richmond Kiwanis Foundation donates $50,000 toward playrooms at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU 

The age-appropriate playrooms will be located throughout the 16-story hospital and can be used to help children feel safe and at ease while at the hospital and to remain connected with their home life through play. 

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Richmond Kiwanis Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kiwanis Club of Richmond, has announced a donation of $50,000 to support the playrooms that will be a part of the Wonder Tower, the new inpatient pediatric hospital at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

The age-appropriate playrooms will be located throughout the 16-story hospital and can be used to help children feel safe and at ease while at the hospital and to remain connected with their home life through play.

“We’re here to support the children in the community, especially when they need us most,” said Bruce Tyler, Kiwanis Club of Richmond president. “Children in health care environments need areas where they can be children. Playing, having fun and using their imaginations while they receive care at CHoR.”

The Kiwanis Club of Richmond’s mission is to serve the children of Richmond and the world. That focus has led Richmond Kiwanians to be key drivers for progress in the community in its century of service to children. For over 100 years, Kiwanis and CHoR have remained closely connected and support has included hosting the beloved holiday party for the children at CHoR’s Brook Road Campus each year, providing properly fitted bike helmets to second graders in Richmond Public Schools and supporting a family lounge adjacent to the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.

“Our relationship with the Kiwanis Club of Richmond has stood the test of time and we’re so grateful for their ongoing support,” said Lauren Moore, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Foundation. “This group is wholeheartedly in it for the kids and Richmond is fortunate to have such a thriving, generous Kiwanis chapter doing so much good for the community.”

This $50,000 gift is part of the Foundation’s annual grant program, where organizations whose missions align with Kiwanis are invited to apply for fundings for programs that benefit children in the Richmond area, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  In 2022, Kiwanis Richmond has awarded more than $60,000 to a diverse array of Richmond-area nonprofits.

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