With the holiday season in full swing and Thanksgiving nearly here, local food banks and charities are doing everything they can to make sure community members have the resources they need to enjoy the holidays.
"It’s a special time of year," said Karen Harris, executive director of Danville food bank God's Storehouse. “Whatever we can do to help that along.”
Both God's Storehouse and the Salvation Army have tailored their food boxes to provide for Thanksgiving meals. With a recent survey from the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation finding that the average, 10-person, single-serving Thanksgiving meal costs $64.42, many people cannot afford to pay for their own traditional holiday meals.
“Just because you’re poor, doesn’t mean you shouldn't have that Thanksgiving day tradition," said David Terrell Jr., kitchen supervisor with the Salvation Army.
At God's Storehouse, the boxes, which are pre-packed with canned and non-perishable goods, include such Thanksgiving foods as stuffing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese and canned pumpkin, among other things. Terrell said the Salvation Army is including turkeys and vegetables for the families that receive food boxes from them.
Feeding America, a Chicago-base hunger-relief organization with food banks across the country, tracks food insecurity across the country. Food insecurity — when households do not consistently have the resources needed to obtain food — has trended down over the last several years, the organization noted.
According to 2017 data, nearly 8,000 of Danville's residents — roughly 20% of the city's population — are classified by the organization food insecure. Slightly more than 7,440 of Pittsylvania County's residents — roughly 12% of the county's population — are classified as food insecure.
In Virginia, only the cities of Petersburg, Richmond and Martinsville and the counties of Emporia and Franklin have higher food insecurity rates than Danville, according to Feeding America data.
With the upcoming holidays, God's Storehouse is seeing a surge in the number of people that they serve.
“We always see an uptick of people coming in this time of year," Harris said.
God's Storehouse provides boxes of food for somewhere between 600 and 700 families during a normal week. With Thanksgiving right on the horizon, that number skyrocketed last week to almost 1,000 families.
During the week of last year's Thanksgiving, the food bank served 877 families during only three days of operation. The food bank is normally open Monday through Thursday.
Donations also rise significantly during the holiday season.
As part of the "Cans Across the Conference" competition, Averett University's department of athletics donated 29,121 food items split between God's Storehouse and God's Pit Crew.
Sovah Health-Danville also donated 1,200 pounds of goods on Tuesday. Churches and schools often have drives this time of year to collect goods.
Harris said that the surge in donations this time of year actually helps them get through January to March, when the donations slow down significantly. The Thanksgiving foods are purchased by the food bank in preparation for the holidays.
In addition to the food boxes, the Salvation Army is hosting a Thanksgiving Day meal for anyone. Last year, 375 people attended, and Terrell said he expects at least that many this year.
“We’re here to serve the community," said Capt. Ray Jackson. "It’s not something that we’re doing just because it’s Thanksgiving."
A student at Virginia Tech, Nick Alley, 21, volunteers at God's Storehouse when he comes home on breaks from school.
“I think it’s a really cool way to give back the community," he said.
Andree Leuchner, 73, has been volunteering at the storehouse for four years along with her husband. She says the camaraderie and giving back to the community are some of the reasons they continue to volunteer.
“I just want people to know that you can be out here and be old," she said.