I’ll be the first to admit that the Northern Neck Food Bank today is not what we thought it would be when we started; and I simply could not be more pleased. Here’s the paradox: had I known what we would face in the first few years, I may not have felt up to the task. But having gone through it now and witnessing a community rally for its people and an organization, I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
The Northern Neck Food Bank was started years before we moved a single can of food. On 9/11 I was a heroin addict living in Kansas City listening to airplanes crash into the World Trade Center on my television. It started a change in my life that would lead to the methadone clinic, moving to the middle of nowhere, visiting a food pantry, volunteering to help move cases of food, meeting a beautiful woman, having beautiful children, and starting an organization. I found myself in a constant learning experience that eventually arrived at realizing I was husband material, I was capable of being a father, and I had leadership skills that I had no idea existed.
I am indebted to the people in this community; but more than that, I am indebted to the potential of humanity. It is that potential I am most drawn to as the director of this food bank. Whether it’s the potential to connect people to each other, or to bring innovations to an industry that will be unrecognizable in 10 years from what it is today. We are all called to find and utilize that potential in ourselves; and I am fortunate to live in a community that demonstrates that every day.
-Lance Barton, CEO
This short documentary was made by Virginia Commonwealth University student Alex Kolotous.
Can you imagine starting a business, putting enormous energy and money into it, and never taking into consideration the needs of your customers? Sure you can, it’s called “a long list of failed businesses”. The Northern Neck Food Bank was started to address the need for food banks to get a better understanding of their client’s needs. In 2012 they asked every person who receives food in the five counties they serve a very simple question: “does anyone in your household have Type I or II diabetes”? The answer was yes from 32% of the households. If you take into consideration that the U.S. Department of Health believes that 1/3 of those with diabetes do not know it; then the answer is astounding.
For years (in the case of our director it’s been 10 years), food pantries and food banks have been distributing “what is available to them”. It is only in the last couple of years that a top-down examination of the QUALITY of the food we distribute has resulted in a major push to improve that food throughout the entire food bank industry. The decision to move towards fresh produce may have begun primarily as an answer to dwindling food sources; but the result of that decision is a new level of respect for the nutritious needs of the individuals we serve.
The regional and national shift to fresh produce has helped a small rural community find it’s place in the big picture. The Northern Neck produce growers have stepped up to the challenge in a way that is making waves across the country. The message is clear: rural communities will be a powerful partner for the future of food banks.