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‘We’re supposed to do things like this’

For nearly 30 years, Tom Finderson has worked hard to take care of his hometown.

He was part of a small, nondescript group of volunteers behind the Carrollton Food Lion on a recent sunny weekday morning. They gathered around two SUVs as 18 wheelers bound for the grocery store rumbled to and from the loading dock.

In the store’s back room and walk-in coolers, carts of perfectly good food that might otherwise be discarded were waiting. Finderson sprung into action, carefully loading the food onto another cart. His work, along with the support of volunteers and churches, helps keep Isle of Wight residents healthy and hopeful.

Volunteers, including Finderson, pick up and deliver donated food from the grocery store about three times a week in partnership with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Carrollton and Rescue Friends Church support the effort. Oak Grove church also runs a food pantry for non-perishable items. The boxes are packed with fresh produce, such as zucchini, cucumbers, asparagus, potatoes and oranges. There’s also fresh meat — whenever it’s available — a little dairy and some sweet and savory bakery items, like bread.

Pickup and delivery volunteers are masked and practice social distancing. Perishable items are checked with a touch-free infrared thermometer to make sure they’re safe before they’re given to residents throughout Isle of Wight.

“See this?” said volunteer Lanelle Johnson, a coordinator with Norfolk Food Bank, as she placed a package of fresh asparagus in a box. “It’s microwave steamable. This is a big deal for seniors and this is what I try to put in so that it’s easy for them to prepare and it’s also nutritious. If we’re not going to eat it, we shouldn’t be delivering it,” she said.

Finderson, a volunteer distribution coordinator with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, said the estimated value of the donated food is about $200,000 annually. In the pandemic era, Finderson said one thing he’s noticed is how the health crisis has negatively affected people’s economic and housing situations. In some cases, the people receiving assistance are in a situation where “two or three families are living in the same house” out of necessity.

The volunteer service in Carrollton is the latest point of action for Finderson, who for decades has played a leading role in organizing or working for the Smithfield-based Christian Outreach Program, the Red Cross and the local rescue squad. He sees it all as a call to service that he can’t ignore.

“We’re supposed to do things like this,” he said as the group loaded the food boxes into their cars.

Finderson said he often feels humbled and inspired by those they’re serving. In one case, a woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her husband was in a car wreck, and they were out of work. “And what does she do? She calls me and tells me ‘What’s the name of your church? I want to tithe.’ And these are the last people in the world that should be tithing. So that part is very inspirational,” he said.

Tom and his wife Joann live on Sugar Hill Road in the Carrollton area. He’s also been picking up trash along the road and in the neighborhood of his own volition for many years — so many he says he can’t remember exactly when he started. That’s how Allison Maroules met him.

“I thought somebody was littering because I would see these plastic trash bags along the side of the road every now and then,” Maroules said. But one day, “I finally caught him in the act, and I said ‘I’d love to help you.’” She later decided to volunteer with the foodbank, too. Mauroles’ two daughters sometimes help out with the food distribution and delivery. “It’s been a nice way to give back to the community,” she said.

More volunteers are wanted to assist with foodbank pickup and delivery on Tuesday and Thursday. For more information about getting involved or to request emergency food assistance, call 757-291-6502 or visit foodbankonline.org.