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Virginia

Statewide Food Drive

Help restock food banks where your hungry neighbors go to get free groceries

Sally Anna Stapleton, volunteers in Christiansburg Virginia

Sally Anna Stapleton, of Radford, coordinates 30 of the 500 AARP volunteers who will collect food to stock food banks Sept. 9 to 15. The number of Virginians needing food has jumped 54 percent since 2006. — Photo by Jared Soares

Sally Anna Stapleton knows exactly why she's spending her free time posting flyers and corralling volunteers as part of the statewide community food drive organized by AARP Virginia.

See also: Your guide to public assistance.

It's for the single unemployed dad in his 30s who was new in town and whose ex-wife had just died, leaving him with a young daughter to care for.

Stapleton saw the man come through a Christiansburg food bank where she volunteers.

"It touched my heart," she said. "He really, really wanted to be supportive of this role he found himself in and do the right thing and be a good dad."

Stapleton, 65, of Radford, retired from Xerox, is one of about 500 volunteers who will collect food throughout the state Sept. 9 to 15 to stock food banks still reeling from the economic downturn.

The goal is to collect 100,000 pounds of food. That's more than 83,000 meals, said Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, which will receive donations from the drive and distribute the food to pantries, where people in need go for groceries.

Stapleton organizes about 30 volunteers in the New River Valley, where last year's drive brought in 5,000 pounds of nonperishable food.

"The need over the last couple years has been huge," she said. "There have been times the food banks have been empty."

More than 143,000 Virginians age 55 and older live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of people needing help in Virginia has jumped 54 percent since 2006, according to Federation of Virginia Food Banks statistics.

Some of the food bank clients, Van Horn said, are people 50 and older who lost jobs. They used to donate to the food banks but now need help themselves.

As the need increased, some of the reliable donors had less to give. For instance, corporations that donated products like cans with upside down labels or cranberry sauce left over in January have become more efficient and don't have extras to donate, she said.

Meanwhile, the need mounts.

Next: Some still can't afford to put a meal on the table. »

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