Normal run-of-the-mill emergencies tend to last a few hours or maybe a few days, but the challenges associated with COVID-19 are much different. The impact of the pandemic is expected to last for a while and produce a greater need than other events.
One of those needs is the access to food for the most vulnerable in the community. To help address that need, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors donated $30,000 last month to the local food banks, who have seen a decline in donations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Board’s number one priority is the health and welfare of our residents,” said Chair of the Board of County Supervisors Ann Wheeler. “Access to food is critical in helping our most vulnerable families get through this pandemic. However, we know that more is needed to be done.”
This is where the Community Feeding Taskforce comes in. Born out of the desire to help those in need, Prince William County partnered with Action in the Community Through Service (ACTS), the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park and the Prince William County Community Foundation to establish the Community Feeding Taskforce — a scalable, flexible, long-term feeding operation put in place to make sure Prince William County residents who need food receive it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACTS Development Director Aaron Tolson said ACTS has been working with Prince William County’s Emergency Management Office and other partners to build a hub-and-spoke distribution system to match the food supply to the need in the community.
The hub, which is a warehouse that stores food, is a key part of the operation. Didlake, a company that creates opportunities for people with disabilities, stepped up to the plate and temporarily donated a warehouse on Breeden Avenue in Manassas. The Didlake warehouse will serve as the headquarters until the taskforce can find a long-term solution of a commercial warehouse with loading docks and space for greater storage and sorting capacity. It helps support frequent deliveries out to the spokes, or community partners, who will help deliver the food.
Establishing spokes at key locations throughout the county gives the task force the ability to provide food to volunteers who can deliver it to people in need. The taskforce is working to finalize the list of spoke distribution partners.
A local foodservice provider donated a trailer of produce and dairy products, and will provide a second trailer full next week. They will leave the trailer for use as temporary refrigerated storage.
“We have been moving food all over the place,” Tolson said. “Donations are good, and we’re also looking at purchasing. We’re also working with Capital Area Food Bank.”
The taskforce has also been able to make direct deliveries to shut-in seniors, Tolson said.
Tolson said ACTS had just finished creating an app that would serve the operation when the crisis hit. The Prince William Food Rescue App, found in the App Store and Google Play, will alert volunteers, who have the app installed, that there is food rescue available. The volunteers can accept the rescue and pick up and deliver the food, Tolson said. “It basically mobilizes volunteers to move food from a donor to a distribution location.”
“Operating in the COVID-19 crisis has set new ways of serving the hungry and the crisis will extend,” Tolson said. “We’re building on the ground floor and creating something that is beneficial not only for this crisis, but then would be part of the community’s disaster feeding operations moving forward. We think it’s going to be months that we’re going to be operating. Even when this goes away, you still have the recovery time for the economy and people with their loss of income. It’s going to be a while until things get back to where they were.”
Didlake CEO Donna Hollis said her company was “proud to be part of this important effort.” “For over 54 years we’ve served the community by creating opportunities for people with disabilities. Now we’re creating opportunities for people to eat.”
To volunteer with the Community Feeding Taskforce, download the Prince William Food Rescue app or register with Volunteer Prince William at volunteerprincewilliam.org.
To donate food, please donate to either a local food pantry or call ACTS at 703-441-8606, extension 251 to coordinate a drop off time.
For more information about the county’s response to COVID-19, visit pwcgov.org/COVID19.