Petersburg Team Fights Food Insecurity Over Thanksgiving Holiday

By Amie Knowles

November 24, 2020

Thousands of Virginia residents will receive Thanksgiving meals, thanks to a group’s creative use of CARES Act funding.

PETERSBURG – The pandemic won’t stop over 8,100 Petersburg residents from enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner this year. That’s all thanks to Feed the Need, an initiative that provides families with a taste of Petersburg during the week kicking off the holiday season.

Funded by the CARES Act, the city partnered with local restaurants and caterers. They purchased pre-packaged meals, which city leaders and an army of area workers and volunteers helped distribute and deliver to select homes and 30 stationary sites. Some organizations even held a drive-thru event.

Taking place over a four-day span, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday on Thanksgiving week, the city, restaurants, community organizations, volunteers and workers all came together – while still socially distanced – to make the vision a reality.

“It’s an awesome wheel that’s been working very well from the very top to very bottom,” said Folakemi Osoba, Petersburg’s public information officer. “Everything has been going smoothly here [since] day one.”

Pandemic problems

In Petersburg, COVID-19 hit families hard, but not all experienced the same set of struggles.

“I think the impact has been relative. So everyone has been impacted differently, whether it be through employment or financially, whether it be impacted through kids and the various school schedules, online or in-person,” Osoba said. “So I think in the city of Petersburg, people have been impacted in different ways.”

Annette Smith-Lee, a city council member, expressed concern for the senior population, which in part drew her interest in the Feed the Need project.

“They have, like, shut down completely. They only go to the store and to the doctor,” Smith-Lee said. “Now when you go to their house, you ring the doorbell, you step back and they are very, very particular about who comes in and who they talk to and everything like that.”

A helping hand

Seeking a solution, the idea for the Feed the Need initiative took hold. All-told, the program cost more than $100,000, which directly benefited eight local restaurants: Konran, Earnestine’s Table, Traditionz, Alexanders, Maria’s Old Town 21, Charlotte’s Chicken and Waffles, Old Town’s Alibi and Boppers.

Each participating restaurant put their own spin on a Thanksgiving meal, offering their own signature specialties in lieu of the traditional turkey-and-stuffing plate.

“Through this Feed the Need program, we were really looking for a way to not only benefit our community members, but also our local business community,” Osoba said.

Rather than asking restaurants for food donations, the program supported the local economy, while also putting food on the table for those in need.

“The issue that this initiative is addressing is food insecurity and to ensure that people were getting fed through this process,” said Darnetta Tyus, deputy city manager. “That’s why we wanted to do it this way.”

Showing support

It’s incredible what a single, hot, dignified meal from an established restaurant means to those who normally couldn’t afford it. In Petersburg, unfortunately, that’s a larger number of individuals than some might think.

According to Feeding America’s statistics from 2018, Petersburg had an overall food insecurity rating of 20%, where 82% of those impacted fell below the SNAP threshold.

While Feeding America estimated a more than $3 million gap to meet food needs in Petersburg, the Feed the Need program worked toward fighting hunger for the holiday.  

“I think that what we’re doing, and the reaction of the citizens in Petersburg, they’re feeling warm inside because a lot of times, citizens don’t feel like they are loved,” Smith-Lee said. “We want them to know that they are loved and we want the best for them and we want them to know that we’ve got them, in spite of COVID-19, them losing their jobs, kids being taught virtually, we just want them to know that no matter what, we have their backs.”

Taking a step toward fighting food insecurity, the group has a similar Christmas holiday meal plan in the works.

“I think the overall message is, we just want our community members to feel supported,” Osoba said. “That includes our local business community, our local restaurants, as well as our residents.”

Amie Knowles reports for the Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


Local News

Related Stories
Share This