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Feeding the community: Full hearts, full stomachs

With the help of the community, people in Lunenburg County who would otherwise go hungry are going to bed each night with full stomachs.

Each Thursday at the Peoples Community Center, a host of volunteers come in early and begin unpacking food items, lining table after table with bread, produce, canned goods and more for those who are waiting for their weekly “shopping trip.”

The Peoples Community Center Food Pantry’s (TPCC) success is due to partnerships with local civic organizations, social clubs, the local court system, businesses and churches in the community and the Lunenburg County School System, TPCC Director Donna Dagner said.

According to Dagner, TPCC feeds 100 to 125 individuals each week. It’s all made possible with the help of donations, both food and monetary.

“We get food donations from Publix, Walmart, Food Lion and FeedMore,” Dagner said.

Today, TPCC serves more than 1,200 households each month. Dagner said TPCC distributes approximately 35,000 pounds of nonperishable items, 4,000 pounds of meat and 57,000 pounds of produce throughout the month.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Dagner said she has seen the need for food increase. Over the past year, TPCC has had an influx of new clients.

“For every 10 clients served, three were new or first-time applicants,” Dagner said. “The economic impact of the pandemic has meant long-term financial hardship for many.”

According to Dagner, 20% of the households within the region are in what’s considered a “food desert.” This is described as an area where there is minimal access to healthy foods. Additionally, 20% of the households they serve describe their situation as “food insecure.” This means they do not have access to food that supports a healthy lifestyle and may not always feel adequate supply due to financial limitations.

With the help of her mom, Dagner opened the TPCC Food Pantry 22 years ago with the support of The Peoples Community Center Board of Directors.

“During our initial training, we learned that many people go to bed hungry,” Dagner said. “I remember asking my mom if she thought there were citizens in Lunenburg County who went to bed hungry. Her response to me was, ‘We may not see it in our social circles, but there are many out there that could benefit from TPCC Food Pantry.’”

Dagner said three months after opening, a lady with young children came in and shared that the only thing she had in her refrigerator for the past three days was water.

“At that point, I was convinced that this program was a necessity,” she said.