Last year, Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry gave out more than 1.5 million pounds of food, including fresh produce and bread, frozen meat and shelf-stable fruit, proteins and vegetables to nearly 56,000 people from Charlottesville, Albemarle County and other nearby counties.
January, however, is particularly difficult for people who don’t have enough to eat, according to data from Loaves & Fishes, a distribution partner of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Donations plummet after the holidays.
With that in mind, Madison House, the independent, nonprofit volunteer center for University of Virginia students, and the UVA Club of Charlottesville are partnering with Loaves & Fishes in a food drive. Anyone can bring nonperishable donations to Madison House at 170 Rugby Road between 9 a.m. and noon this Saturday.
“When access to food is not consistent and dependable, a household is classified as food insecure,” Jane Colony Mills, Loaves & Fishes’ executive director, said. A UVA alumna, Mills herself volunteered with Madison House in a different program when she was a student.
Children make up almost 36 percent of the clientele served at the food pantry, and the percentage of senior citizens has more than doubled to nearly 14 percent, Mills said.
Saturday’s event is part of a larger effort among UVA Clubs around the country to make Jan. 26 a day of community service in honor of “Charter Day.” On Jan. 25, 1819, the Virginia General Assembly approved the establishment of Central College, which later changed its name to the University of Virginia. The alumni chapters will offer a range of services, such as picking peppers for a local food bank in Delray Beach, Florida; helping an early child development program for new parents in Boston; and playing noncompetitive sports with youth with disabilities in Los Angeles.
Currently, Madison House has community partnerships with about 175 organizations, including Loaves & Fishes, where about 10 students volunteer each week at the pantry, usually helping clients directly.
Charlottesville native Cassandra Plemons, a third-year McIntire School of Commerce student who serves as program director for this Madison House program, said she began volunteering at Loaves & Fishes before she became a UVA student and wanted to introduce other students to a wonderful community.
“As a guide, you help the clients through the pantry by distributing the allotted amount of food and packing their cart,” she said.
One of her favorite things is the way the food pantry is set up. “The grocery-like feel gives clients the ability to choose the food they want, unlike some places where they are just handed a box.”
Third-year student Maggie Barilka, a community engagement intern at Madison House, is helping get the word out to students about Saturday’s food donation drive.
“The beginning of the year can be a hard time for food pantries, and being able to help them in this way is a great opportunity,” said Barilka, who is studying speech communication disorders in the Curry School of Education and Human Development.
Mills pointed out that working at Madison House set her on a path of community involvement that has continued through most of her career, and she’s now come full circle.
“I can say that becoming executive director of Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry feels like the ultimate opportunity to give back to my community,” she said.