SALEM, Va. – Making sure no one goes hungry.
That’s been the life’s mission of Feeding Southwest Virginia President and CEO Pamela Irvine who’s at the helm of the organization that’s now responsible for distributing several billion pounds of food to people.
Though her mission at times has felt impossible, Irvine has fed hungry people for 40 years.
2021 marks the organization’s 40th anniversary.
“We always say that there is divine providence and miraculous intervention,” Irvine said. “If you give a good day’s work, if you are good stewards and integrity is important to you, you do what you need to do and sometimes things just happen for you that are blessings.”
Irvine said the work they accomplish and the challenges they overcome are only possible through answered prayers and modern-day miracles.
“I remember times when we were just praying to make payroll,” recalled Irvine. “One time, we needed $20,000 and we didn’t have it. The next day in the mail there were two $10,000 checks in the mail from individuals that we had never met.”
From humble beginnings in a small church in the Alleghany Highlands, now to Southwest Virginia’s largest food bank, it’s been years of overcoming obstacles.
Irvine said; however, that each obstacle has been met with faith.
She said she knows they are doing the right thing, both morally and biblically. “We pulled out of Total Action for Poverty in July of 1999 without a dime, knowing that we had 26 counties to serve that were the poorest in the state,” Irvine said.
While it was difficult then, the nonprofit pulled through. Fast forward 20 years to today, Feeding Southwest Virginia channels over $33 million worth of food in the region.
Perhaps more important than meals, Irvine said, they give hope. It’s an aspect of the job she personally identifies with, as she knows from personal experience, financial hardship can be difficult, and more importantly - can happen to anyone.
“For our 40th year, our theme is ‘every meal has a story.’ And it took me a long time to share my story,” Irvine said. “When my husband and I were first married, and we had a small child, we had $25 sometimes every week to buy groceries. So that wasn’t a lot. So I could relate to that,” Irvine said. That personal experience has fueled her passion to make it through the nonprofit’s most challenging year yet.
2021 not only created more of a need than ever, but it also added more risks to staff and volunteers.
“We’ve been through a tough year. It can make you or break you. I believe if you do the right thing, it will provide something for somebody else,” Irvine said. “Food is hope. It’s not just food. And it’s not just about the food. Even though we talk a lot about the food. It’s not about the food. It’s about the people.”
After 40 years of service, Irvine said she isn’t quite ready to retire yet, but she is thinking about the legacy she leaves behind, and planning for the future of the nonprofit, hoping to take it to the next level.
Irvine explained that the next level is empowering people in Southwest Virginia to get involved in government, helping to make policy changes that can help fight hunger in the region.
While there will almost inevitably always be someone who needs help, Irvine hopes to make a lasting change that will drastically reduce the need in Southwest Virginia.
She has made reaching those people possible through innovative programs like Café to Grow, a mobile food pantry, and the nonprofit’s children’s summer feeding program.
Most recently they launched FSWVA’s Mobile Marketplace, a program designed to provide accessibility to underserved demographic groups and rural locations. The client-direct program offers SNAP-eligible groceries for purchase.
While Irvine is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the organization, she credits the nonprofit’s success to the generosity of the community and those willing to give their time, expertise and resources to people they may never meet.
To donate to Feeding Southwest, or learn other ways to help or volunteer visit its website.
If you or someone you know needs food assistance, click here.