Non-perishable food items on shelves.

How You Can Really Help Your Local Food Bank This Holiday Season

Few things are as closely associated with the holidays as good food and giving back to your community, and local food banks are a great place to combine both.

You may think of canned vegetables and boxes of pasta, but did you know that most food banks accept all kinds of food and even personal hygiene products? Not only do they accept those items, but they’re also often encouraged.

With an abundance of cans and dry goods, things like microwavable meals, spices and snacks provide easy and tasty nutrition that can be hard to come by for many.

We sat down with Charnetta Lee of Nationz Foundation, a Richmond-based nonprofit providing food, STD testing and other resources for those in need, to find out how you can help your local food bank in a more meaningful way this holiday season.

What are your biggest needs?

Of course, we accept donations of any kind of nonperishable food. We have a hard time keeping food on the shelves and are always looking for more food to give out. Our food pantry was completely full last week, and now it’s nearly empty again. So, food goes very, very fast.

In particular, these items are most requested or less frequently donated:

  • Proteins
  • Cereals
  • Powdered milk
  • Spices and seasonings
  • Snacks
  • Produce (that doesn’t require refrigeration)
  • Microwaveable meals
  • Personal hygiene products
    • Feminine hygiene products
    • Soap and shower products
    • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
    • Diapers

One other important tidbit: Many people coming to our food bank are unhoused and/or don’t have access to appliances like can openers or refrigerators, so it’s important that we get items with pop-top lids that don’t need to be refrigerated.

Where can people go to access donated items?

We have our food pantry here, and we have three RVs that we take into the community [that act as mobile food pantries]. The RVs are mainly used to provide free HIV testing services (another primary service provided by Nationz Foundation), but people in need of food are able to grab that off of the RV as well. Our brick-and-mortar food bank is located within our office at 1603 Santa Rosa Rd, Suite 203 in Henrico.

Photo of a Nationz Foundation RV.

What is the best way for people to help their local food bank?

Definitely hosting food drives.

You don’t have to go through us to organize a food drive, which makes it easy to do on your own terms. People can use delivery services like Amazon or Walmart and have it delivered directly to us, or they can gather donations and drop them off. You can ask your family or community members to donate physical items, or even collect monetary donations and do your own shopping.

If people want to get in touch with us to coordinate a food drive or a donation drop off, they can either go through our website or call our office at 804-716-7597.

About Nationz Foundation

Nationz Foundation was founded with the mission of “inspiring Central Virginia’s LGBTQIA+ community to take responsibility for their health and wellness.” It actively campaigns to reduce the prevalence of HIV and STIs and has handed out over one-million safe sex materials.

Besides the food pantry, Nationz has over a dozen programs to provide free HIV and STI testing, a text hotline, community events and resources like computer lab and notary services.

Nationz partners with local LGBTQ+ nightclubs (Babes of Carytown, Godfrey’s, Fallout and Club Colours) to raise awareness of their services and provide free testing. In addition to club outreach, the Nationz Mobile Testing Unit & Pantry (RV program) brings its services directly to the community.

Visit the Nationz Foundation website to learn how to volunteer and get involved.

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