Backstage at the Food Pantry

Jonathan Toms, community development manager for Smithfield Foods, hands a spiral ham to Michael McKee, CEO for Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the first links in a human chain unloading donated hams at the food bank warehouse in Verona on Tuesday

Story and photos by Mike Tripp, contributor

The group gathered on the loading dock in the back of the warehouse at Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s headquarters in Verona. 

Among them were representatives of the food bank, along with Smithfield Foods and University of Virginia Athletics Department, there to celebrate Smithfield’s large donation of food.

The Virginia company made a combined donation of 80,000 pounds of protein, in the form of spiral hams, split between the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Feeding Southwest Virginia. The two food banks serve communities surrounding the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, and Smithfield is the presenting sponsor of the “Commonwealth Clash” rivalry games between the schools in all sports for the 2021-2025 seasons.

Donated spiral hams fill a barrel container at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s share of this week’s donation translates to 40,000 pounds of protein for families throughout its coverage area of 25 counties and 8 cities on either side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Jimmy Deyo, lead warehouse assistant, logs information on an arrival of donated food at Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona. Deyo says he is thankful their organization is able to provide for those in need within the community.
“I like knowing families are going to have good meals through the holidays, said Greg Knight, food sourcing manager at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “Especially after the last couple of years.”
Greta Vandevander sorts items at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

“It is crucial, now more than ever, to help our neighbors experiencing hunger following a year-and-a-half of hardships, and we’re honored to have the opportunity to bring ‘rivalry’ communities together as one to help fight food insecurity during the Commonwealth Clash week,” said Jonathan Toms, community development manager for Smithfield Foods.

“Protein-rich foods are essential in our fight against nutrition insecurity, so we couldn’t be more thrilled for this wonderful donation of Smithfield products,” said Michael McKee, CEO for Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “Hunger relief partnerships like this allow us to amplify our impact across central and western Virginia.”

When the crowd disappeared, the warehouse workers reappeared to begin the real work of unloading the hams. 

One by one, a forklift pulled the pallets into the warehouse.

Daily routines resumed among the warehouse staff. 

Pallets of the hams were weighed and staged while milk from another delivery went from another trailer into cold storage.

A large pallet sized box filled with donated food items.

Donations from a Boy Scout’s food drive were sorted as another worker items picked for “The Pantry” at James Madison University. 

During their last fiscal year between June 2020-July 2021, an average of 118,300 people were served each month through the Food Bank, its pantry network and supporters. 

Headquartered in Verona, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank serves 25 counties and 8 cities on either side of the Blue Ridge, with distribution centers in Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Winchester.

In the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County alone, the food bank works with groups including Patchwork Pantry, Emmanuel Episcopal Food Pantry, Harrisonburg Senior Center – Valley Program for Aging Services, The Pantry at JMU, Salvation Army – Harrisonburg, Hope Distributed CDC, Lacey Springs Community Food Pantry at  Grace Mennonite Fellowship, Broadway Outreach Food Pantry, Elkton Area United Service, the Timberville Mobile Food Pantry and more.

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