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IW, Surry commissioners join in food drive

This week, commissioners of the revenue in Isle of Wight and Surry counties will be doing more than just their constitutionally-mandated duty of assessing taxes.

They and 18 other commissioners in localities across Virginia will also be helping to fight food insecurity by collecting non-perishable donations for the state’s seven regional food banks.

The statewide initiative is in its third year, having begun in 2018 via the efforts of Newport News Commissioner Tiffany Boyle, who partnered with her counterparts in three other localities. Now, it’s sponsored by the Commissioner of the Revenue Association of Virginia and administered as a friendly competition to see which locality can fill the most empty shelves in the post-holiday season when food bank donations typically dwindle. The locality that collects the most pounds per person wins the competition.

According to Meagan Doggett, deputy commissioner of the revenue for Isle of Wight, all donations collected in that county will go to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. Residents can drop off supplies at 17090 Monument Circle, Suite 113.

In Surry County, Commissioner of the Revenue Jonathan Judkins is asking that residents drop off supplies in a box located to the left of the county government center’s information desk to limit contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Go through the public main entrance door and place donations into the box, which office staff will retrieve daily, he said.

Supplies dropped off in Surry will go to the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank, which serves Surry and Sussex counties, the Peninsula area and the Middle Peninsula counties of Gloucester and Matthews.

Accepted items include monetary donations; canned meats, vegetables or fruits; peanut butter and jelly; macaroni and cheese; canned soups or pasta and sauces. Isle of Wight will collect supplies through Feb. 12, while Surry will collect through Feb. 15.

“Every effort is made by the regional food bank to keep those donations within our county to help those in need,” Judkins said.

In 2020, Surry collected 27 pounds of dry and canned goods.

According to Cliff Hedgspeth, Western Tidewater branch manager of the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, food banks nationwide have seen an increase of 50 million food insecure people since the start of the pandemic, with 17 million of those individuals being children. Estimates as of October 2020 showed 11,560 Suffolk residents, or roughly 13% of the city’s population, and 4,380 Isle of Wight residents or roughly 12% of the county’s population as being food insecure. In Franklin, 1,490 residents or roughly 18% of the city’s population, also fall into that category, as do 2,240 or roughly 13% of Southampton County residents.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in food insecure people; at the same time, there’s been a decrease in volunteers because of COVID-19 … and the shutdown of our partner agencies,” Hedgspeth said. “I would say the numbers actually tripled in many of our areas … due to furloughs, layoffs, shutdowns.”

The Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore currently operates its Western Tidewater branch out of the Hayden Village Center in Franklin but plans to open its own local brick-and-mortar facility later this year. With Little’s Supermarket now demolished, its mobile pantry for the Smithfield area has relocated to the Luter Sports Complex, and in Franklin, mobile pantries are operating at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Southampton Meadows mobile home park.