Local food bank seeks to meet increased need during COVID-19 pandemic

By Christy Mumford Jerding

Folks who need help filling their kitchen cabinets can count on the Mission Ministries Food Pantry and Outreach Center in Waverly.

Located at 352 W. Main St., the food pantry is open regularly on the first and third Saturdays of the month (schedule varies with holidays), from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The town of Waverly owns the building and leases it to Mission Ministries at no cost to operate the food bank. It has been open since October 2010.

“Mission Ministries is operated completely by volunteers, mainly from churches in Sussex County and Prince George County,” said Sharon Jadrnak, president of Mission Ministries and co-manager of the food pantry. The pantry is operating on COVID-19 protocols now, so it is doing drive-through pick up only. People on foot with carts also are being served.

“In 2020, the food pantry distributed more than 79,000 pounds of food,” Jadrnak said. “On average in 2020, we served 137 households representing 317 individuals per month.”

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, the economic effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have led to a nationwide increase in food insecurity.

In Sussex and Surry counties, Feeding America estimates that the number of food insecure households has increased 25% overall since the pandemic began in February 2020.

Jadrnak said her organization has noticed an increase in need over the last year. “Since February, our monthly increase in the number of households served ranged from 2% to 60%, depending on the month. We sign up new households every month, [and] those numbers have increased over the past year.”

Households can receive groceries at the food pantry once per month, Jadrnak said, and there is a small amount of paperwork to be filled out for new visitors.

The bulk of Mission Ministries food comes from FeedMore, central Virginia’s food bank in Richmond, and is provided free. “If needed, we can also shop at FeedMore and purchase non-perishable items, produce and frozen meat at a very low price per pound,” she said. “Many churches and groups in Sussex County and Prince George County donate non-perishable food to the food pantry. We have also had some local farmers donate fresh produce during the growing season. Occasionally we purchase some non-perishable items from Great Valu IGA in Wakefield (they also donate food from time to time). Donations have also come from Pepperidge Farm Foods, Boar's Head and Smithfield Foods.”

The greatest need is non-perishable items, as the Waverly food pantry has limited freezer and cooler storage space. “We can always use certain non-perishable items including cereal (non-sugary), crackers (plain), peanut butter, pasta (mac and cheese, spaghetti, etc.), and canned goods (meat, soup, fruit, vegetables),” Jadrnak said.

Volunteers also are welcome. “All of our volunteers need to be scheduled ahead of time and must currently wear masks while at the food pantry either inside or outside,” she said. “Volunteers handling food also wear gloves. Individuals can help in the afternoons from noon to 3 p.m.”