Feeding Southwest Virginia (SWVA), an organization part of the national Feeding America program, is working to provide affordable food to local residents with its Mobile Marketplace program.
Wes Childress, director of Marketing and Communications, said the organization has been in the area for about 41 years.
“It covers 26 counties and nine cities throughout the service region. So, pretty much from Botetourt all the way down to Lee County to Buchanan County and all the places like that,” he said.
To help address food insecurities, the organization has two distribution centers to cover the region, one in Salem and one in Abingdon.
Childress said the Mobile Marketplace was one idea to help with its goal.
“It can be an avenue for people to get food at a discounted rate and at discounted prices. It is food that we purchase ourselves and then we give back. They purchase at a lower rate than what they can find at a store,” he said.
Childress said the marketplace accepts credit, debit, EBT/SNAP benefits. “It helps stretch their dollar a little further,” he added.
The marketplaces are currently set up in more than a dozen localities, including Patrick and Henry counties, and the City of Martinsville.
Childress said the organization decides which communities to set up in based on the need.
By using a Feeding America database called Map the Meal Gap, “we know off of that information we have 12.9 percent of people in Henry County that are food insecure, that means that anyone 19 and older,” he said.
For those 18 and younger, the rate of food insecurity rises to 20.8 percent.
Childress said the rates increased in Martinsville, with 18.4 percent considered food insecure. About 2,130, or 12.1 percent, of Patrick residents also are facing food insecurity.
“We know there is a need, and we want to help be there for that need. We believe this is a great way to help be there in that area,” he said.
Feeding SWVA also works with several food pantries in the area to provide food to those in need, according to Childress.
He added food available from the marketplace changes, depending on the season and where it is purchased.
“We always try to make sure we have healthy options and shelf-stable food items,” Childress said. “So, we try to make sure we have good, healthy produce as well as healthy shelf-stable food anyone can buy at any point at a grocery store.”
Unlike some food distributions, the marketplace allows shoppers to choose what they want.
“It’s kind of set up like a farmers’ market for people to go up to it, see what we have available, pick out what they like and how much they would like,” he said.
This system allows shoppers to get food they like, instead of items they might not or cannot eat, he said.
Two associates are onsite to answer any questions and help, Childress said. He estimates the marketplace has been in Henry County-Martinsville for about two years.
“We will come once a month to set up and we’ll bring the food from our food bank and then set up all the necessary items at the site,” he said.
Childress said about 15 people attended the last event in the county and that there was more than $500 in sales.
“We don’t profit off of this. We actually lose because it’s something we believe is needed for the community,” Childress said.
The Feeding SWVA Mobile Marketplace will be in Patrick County the third Thursday of every month at the Rotary Club in Stuart from 12:30-3:30 p.m.
The organization will be set up in Henry County at the HJDB event center the first Thursday of every month from 12-2 p.m., and at the Martinsville City YMCA from 12-2 p.m. the third Monday of every month.
Those wishing to donate can do so at www.feedingswva.org, by calling (540) 342-3011, or sending a check to 1025 Electric Rd, Salem, VA 24153.
For more information, go to www.feedingamerica.org, or Facebook.com/FeedingSouthwestVirginia.