It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out

It’s 8:30 a.m. and a buzz of activity was taking place around Foster Hall on the Virginia State University (VSU) campus. Shopping carts and recycle buckets were unloaded, freezers and racks were filled, volunteers were given their positions and the stage was set for the latest arm of the Chesterfield Food Bank and its food distribution program for the Ettrick and Matoaca community.  

Last Saturday was the third distribution of food for residents in Southern Chesterfield County.  After one of its founders, Travis Whittle, with his angelic face and perpetual smile and in his bare feet, lit the room up with a welcomed to everyone and said, “When you walk-in this room it is like royalty walking in and God gave us this mission to serve you,” the first shopping cart filled with enough food for a week began rolling out after a brief sermon from Whittle.

Matoaca Supervisor Steve Elswick joined in and helped by rolling out the basket of food for Charlene Drew. It was the second visit for the senior citizen from the community. “It is very helpful,” she said of the food distribution program. “I thank God for it.”

Elswick was encouraged by what he observed during the work of the Chesterfield Food Bank and its volunteers, many who were there for the first time. “When you break life down to its simplest terms, we are here to serve God and mankind. That is what we are doing here today, serving mankind,” he said. “If we take care of each other, we would not have all these problems and what we are doing here today is taking care of each other.”

The mission of the food bank is to give a hand up not a hand out and Elswick saw that at work. “When people just show up and get food and leave, there is no relationship,” he said. “They [the food bank] try to have a relationship with the people. Make it like a family. This develops a relationship in a community that cares.”

The extended relationship not only includes food but avenues to help with any assistance that may be needed with shelter, education, child care or family assistance. That help comes with connections to the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Social Services. They do not share records but will refer folks to social services where the food bank volunteers see a need.

It was the work of Bonnie Inge Bell representing the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Social Services and Nancy Ross, vice president of the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation that encouraged the Chesterfield Food Bank to develop a community food program for Ettrick and Matoaca.

“Nancy and Bonnie brought it all together,” said Kim Hill, director of the Chesterfield Food Bank. “After their visit and evaluating, we realized people living in this community were not going to Chester [the food bank’s distribution center].”

“I called Nancy and we went to the Friday night distribution in Chester,” said Bell.  “We observed it and talked to Kim.  We like the feel of it and the spiritual component to it.”
After a few lunch meetings and a meeting in March with VSU’s Director of United Campus Ministries, Rev. Delano Douglas, Bell said, “He put the seal on it. That little meeting turned into this marathon.”

Flyers went out into the community through schools and churches of the food program and its first distribution date. “The need was great,” said Ross. “However, as a community, we were not addressing their needs. We do not qualify for Petersburg or Colonial Heights. We took a chance. We knew there was a need and with God’s grace, everything came together.”

After the success of the first distribution in April the food bank was asked to give a presentation to the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation.  After the presentation, the foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to the Chesterfield Food Bank. “They [the food bank] are destined to be here and do this and we want to continue with it,” said Ross.  The food bank has served over 450 families over 37,000 meals since April.  Next scheduled distribution dates for the Ettrick and Matoaca Community Food Program are July 19, August 16, September 20, October 18, November 22 and December 20. Foster Hall is located on the VSU campus at 1 Hayden Dr.

The Chesterfield Food Bank was started by Whittle and his wife Karie and a group of business owners in 2010. “This is our first mobile food distribution. We would not have been able to do this without Feed More, our ‘Food Angels,’” said Travis Whittle. “Along with Feed More, we have to thank the Ettrick Neighborhood and Business Foundation for financial help, the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Social Services and Virginia State University for their support.  Also a special thanks to the volunteers from Colonial Heights Baptist, the students of VSU and all the volunteers from the local high schools and the community.”

According to their website, “The Chesterfield Food Bank gives a hand up, not a handout, to those people in the community who make too much money to qualify for government assistance, but not enough to survive. These people are often on the verge of hopelessness.  Working through Social Services, Chesterfield Food Bank provides them with support and motivation so they don’t give up.”

Through the Whittle’s foundation, First Fruits Foundation, they do this by providing free food through the Chesterfield Food Bank (a 501c3 non-profit corporation), free clothes and free shelter to meet the individual’s immediate need while assessing the root issues that are causing the need to exist. After assessment they are quick to offer free professional counseling, free group therapy, free finance classes and free continuing education classes so that every person has the opportunity to become a self-sufficient part of our community.

The Chesterfield Food Bank is located at 12211 Iron Bridge Rd., Chester. For more information or to make a donation visit chesterfieldfoodbank.org or mail a donation to P.O. Box 2729 Chester, VA 23831.

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