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Nonprofits forced to adjust Thanksgiving meal delivery during COVID-19 pandemic

‘We’re preparing for whatever we need to do to meet the need’

Here's how volunteers have had to adapt amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Here's how volunteers have had to adapt amid the coronavirus pandemic.

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Thanksgiving is a time to give back and local nonprofits are working hard to make sure no family goes hungry.

Volunteer Pat Akers has been helping out United Way of the New River Valley for the past decade. But this holiday season will be like never before.

“I know how tough it is, especially now," said Akers.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit had to make some changes to its Thanksgiving meal box program. Each year, about 300 needy families (around 800 individuals in total) are served up some holiday favorites, including turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.

This year, Community Engagement Director Marcela Jara-Radlbeck is expecting even more.

“Just giving the financial instability of COVID, so we have no idea," said Jara-Radlebeck. "We’re preparing for whatever we need to do to meet the need.”

United Way has had to limit the number of volunteers who can pack the meal boxes and instead of the typical meal box distribution, they are doing a contactless pick-up.

“They may just get a ‘hello’ through the window," said Akers.

Families are asked to wear masks, drive to the designated parking spots to pick up meals, pop their trunks and volunteers will put the meals right in the back of the cars.

“A lot of the programs and pantries are doing special Thanksgiving boxes, so we’re providing a lot of the food for that," said Pamela Irvine, the president and CEO of Feeding Southwest Virginia.

Feeding Southwest Virginia wants to make sure the shelves of the pantries it serves are stocked not just over the holidays, but beyond. They’re holding more pop-up food distributions and moving a lot more food.

“We’ve been distributing around anywhere between 20 and 30 some percent more food, and particularly the government food,” said Irvine. “Come January, February, March, we’re going to see a decrease in that food, so you know, and plus we’ll probably see an increase in the need.”

Since families can’t get together for big gatherings this year or share the cost of side dishes, salads or main courses, that can put an added burden on families' wallets.

Akers is thankful for the community’s support to donate and volunteer and she hopes they continue to give this year.

“People have always been so generous in donating,” said Akers. “Whether or not they are this year, I hope that they still do.”

To donate or learn more about the United Way’s Thanksgiving meal box program, click here.

To volunteer, donate or find food with Feeding Southwest Virginia, click here.


About the Author:

Lindsey joined the WSLS 10 team as a reporter in February 2019 and is thrilled to call Roanoke her new home!