Throughout our country, food banks are working with other leading nonprofit organizations to achieve greater efficiencies and make an even bigger positive impact in their communities. FeedMore, a member of the Feeding America network in Richmond, Virginia, is a trailblazer when it comes to working with local partners to streamline operations and better meet the needs of the people they serve.
In 2005, the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels—which are now both programs under FeedMore— came together to build a large, modern joint kitchen, appropriately named the Community Kitchen, to cost-effectively create cooked-from-scratch meals for children, families and seniors across Central Virginia. Both organizations had considered building their own separate production kitchens to reduce costs by preparing meals rather than purchasing them. Joining forces made business sense for this reason and many others.
On a daily basis at the 5,400-square foot, state-of-the-art Sara and Steve Bayard Community Kitchen, you will find highly dedicated employees and volunteers making nutritious meals. Every day more than 3,000 healthy meals are prepared for hunger-relief programs including Kids Cafe, Meals on Wheels and the Summer Food Service Program, along with almost a dozen adult day care facilities. For Meals on Wheels, single-serving meals are customized for 14 different dietary restrictions, preferences and requirements without sacrificing the kitchen’s commitment to high-quality, fresh ingredients. In fact, the kitchen often uses locally grown produce from the Green Acre at the Science Museum of Virginia and the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
While speaking with Kristin St. Mars, food sourcing and operations coordinator at FeedMore, and Amory M. James, director of food services at FeedMore’s Community Kitchen, I was struck by the notion that Amory could walk into the food bank’s warehouse and select food items that could be used in kitchen production that day or the next. Amory and his team sometimes cook with donated produce from local grocery stores and other food retailers. When food donations come in that may not last another two to three days, the Community Kitchen can quickly use them to ensure food waste is minimal and costs are kept down.
The Community Kitchen’s cost-effectiveness and efficiency also extends to the building itself—it is LEED Silver Certified, meaning it is resource efficient. Additionally, the kitchen was constructed with various local, recycled materials rated at low volatile organic levels, has solar panels on the roof to heat water, and its indoor lighting adjusts to the amount of daylight coming through the windows.
In addition to keeping food and energy costs low, the Community Kitchen is also fortunate to have support from a dedicated group of volunteers that help keep labor costs manageable. Each weekday, a team of 25 to 40 people devote their own free time to cutting, chopping, peeling and preparing ingredients. Others work as a team to package, seal and label meals for daily deliveries.
The Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels’ partnership to create the Community Kitchen at FeedMore demonstrates that we are stronger together, and often able to accomplish more for people facing hunger when we work side-by-side. As Amory shared, “Food is love, and we have a lot to give and be thankful for.”
*Diane Letson is the director of retail partnerships at Feeding America.