Foodbank’s Western Tidewater Branch opens in Franklin – The Suffolk News-Herald

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore hosted the grand opening of its Franklin-based Western Tidewater Branch on Thursday, September 15.

A Foodbank press release said the facility at 618 South St. is a 17,000-square-foot building that houses a fully stocked warehouse with a walk-in entrance

Refrigerators and freezers, plus a dry storage capacity that can hold up to 48 pallets — or 96,000 pounds — of dry, non-perishable groceries.

In addition, the new branch features a marketplace where food insecure neighbors can “shop” for dairy, meat and fresh produce in a farmers market-style shopping district, offering the dignity of a customer-choice shopping experience it in the press release. On its second floor, the building also houses numerous classrooms and meeting spaces, as well as a computer lab to support programs aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity, namely employment, health care and nutrition, education, housing and financial literacy.

“This is indeed a great day for the Foodbank of Southeast Virginia and the East Coast, for our western Tidewater service area, and for the City of Franklin,” said Christopher Tan, President and CEO of the Foodbank, on Thursday shortly before the dedication ceremony of the building. “This facility is one of our proudest achievements to date for so many reasons. This building is one of the largest capital investments in the Foodbank’s 40+ year history. It also completes the final piece of the puzzle of our foodbank service area, ensuring there is a foodbank facility within a 50-mile radius of every neighbor in need.”

The foodbank’s press release said the Western Tidewater Branch was set up to provide improved services to the area and to reach out to families facing food insecurity in the rural communities of Franklin and Suffolk and in the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Sussex are affected. The opening of this new location marks an important milestone in the Foodbank’s ability to address food insecurity in the region and gives the 30+ partner agencies in Western Tidewater access to a Foodbank warehouse that supplies food to support the local church and community Pantries and soup kitchens – in less than 50 minutes.

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During his remarks, Tan, who joined the Foodbank team a few months ago, noted that every project must have a vision and, more importantly, a visionary, and he highlighted that the visionary leader who contributed to the new Western Tidewater Branch possible, formerly Foodbank President and CEO Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, who was present on Thursday.

“Dr. Jones Nichols looked beyond the building, in need of extensive repairs, with Judge Alfreda Talton-Harris and the First Baptist Church and dreamed of the facility you will see today,” Tan said Virginia and our needy neighbors in Western Tidewater owe you a debt of gratitude, and on their behalf I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

He said he would be remiss if he failed to recognize some of the foodbank’s most dedicated partners and supporters, who played key roles in the creation of the new facility.

Tan explained that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development is a key investor in the foodbank’s work at Western Tidewater.

The Foodbank publication stated that VDHCD supported the new store project with $2 million.

Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt helped manage the project’s bureaucratic hurdles, Tan said. And the generosity of the Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Hubbard Peanut Company enabled the Foodbank to set up makeshift facilities while design and renovation work on the new branch was underway.

The new facility was also made possible by Hampton Roads Ventures, the First Baptist Church of Franklin and the Camp, Landmark and Truist Foundations, according to the Foodbank release.

The press release states that the Obici Healthcare Foundation has provided $600,000 in grants over the past three years.

The president and CEO of that foundation, R. Battle Betts Jr., made a statement Thursday, saying the organization was honored to be a part of the grand opening ceremony.

“Several members of our team and board are here this morning to offer you our support and heartfelt gratitude for taking on the challenge of meeting the food security needs of our most vulnerable communities,” he said.

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He explained that food security is one of the biggest drivers and a fundamental component of the social determinants of health.

“Today, food costs continue to rise, leaving more and more people unable to afford to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “This facility will significantly increase food distribution capacity and provide greater access to healthy food for those who need it most.”

A distinguished list of community partners enables the programs and services offered by the Western Tidewater Branch of the Foodbank.

FreshSkills and Virginia Career Works provide help with employment; Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project Inc. provides housing assistance; STOP Inc., the Virginia Department of Health’s Western Tidewater Health District and Bon Secours Southampton Medical Center provide health care assistance; The Bronco Federal Credit Union offers help with financial literacy; Nutrition and wellness assistance is the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program; and providing assistance with human services are Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater, The Children’s Center and the Foodbank.

Tan thanked the elected officials for their support.

Among the local elected officials in attendance was Franklin Mayor Frank M. Rabil, who spoke briefly.

“What a great facility this will be, what a great common good it will be for all of us here at Western Tidewater,” he said. “The Foodbank should be really proud of what it has achieved. We are delighted to have you in town, welcome you and look forward to a long working relationship.”

Among the congressmen in attendance were Del. Clinton L. Jenkins of the 76th Precinct and Del. H. Otto Wachsmann Jr. of the 75th Precinct.

“Collaboration was key to lasting change,” Tan said as he stood next to the new facility. “Together with other nonprofit organizations, service organizations and community leaders serving on the Western Tidewater Community Collaboration planning team, we have been able to make this dream a reality. I would like to thank each member of the planning team for their support and guidance.

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“Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to thank the staff who made this building and this day possible,” he added. “There are too many of you to name, but please know that today is your day and know that today we celebrate the harvest of your labor.”

Clifford Hedgspeth Sr., Western Tidewater Branch Manager, and Teri Zurfluh, Community Impact Coordinator, are helping to guide the employees on site.

Western Tidewater Community Volunteer Janet Stokes spoke just before the large crowd that attended Thursday’s grand opening.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” she said. “I’m so glad to be here and we’re so proud of the foodbank.”

She emphasized that the Foodbank is making a positive difference, but that help is needed to make the Western Tidewater Branch a success. She said those like her who are retired can help through volunteering, while those still working can help financially with donations.

“Together we can achieve a lot,” she said before addressing the crowd directly, “I need that answer. Are you willing to help?”

“Yes!” was the crowd’s final response.

“We thank you for your help,” she said, “so let’s come together and work to make this happen.”

Just before the ribbon was cut, Marcus Jennings, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Franklin, said a prayer and dedicated the building.

“Gracious God and Creator of all, today we pause to express our gratitude for the work you have done through your humble servants,” he said. “May those who see and benefit from this good work glorify you in heaven. May this location at 618 South St. stand as an everlasting beacon of hope.”

After the ribbon was cut, volunteers, including regional leaders, participated in a service project at the facility’s warehouse and packed bags for the foodbank’s BackPack program. The program provides weekend meals to more than 4,000 children per school year across the region who are food insecure.

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