Healthy Food

New Focus on Collecting Heart-Healthy Food Pantry Items - Public News Service

RICHMOND, Va. - Demand at Virginia food banks has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and a new effort aims to get these community lifelines fully stocked with healthier items.

Ahead of the Richmond Heart Walk, the American Heart Association is collecting nutritious, nonperishable foods to deliver to local food pantries in the Tri-Cities area. Research has shown that food insecurity can lead to hypertension and diabetes, risk factors for heart disease.

Xiomara Encarnacion, Latinx outreach coordinator at the Chesterfield Food Bank, said finding healthy, affordable food for the region's growing Hispanic and Latino population can be difficult.

"It's very hard to find food that is appropriate for our culture, but also, the prices are very expensive," she said. "If you want to buy something that's organic, it's double the price. We offer that at the food bank. People do wait for hours and hours, because that's the best choice for them at this time."

The Richmond Heart Walk is to start at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 at Libbie Mill. The American Heart Association already is taking donations, which can be dropped off at the group's office in Glen Allen. Bulk pickups also can be arranged.

Zakia McKensey is executive director of the Nationz Foundation, a health nonprofit serving Virginia's LGBTQ community. The foundation offers a food pantry in its Richmond office, as well as with pantries in its mobile HIV testing units. McKensey said since the pandemic, the foundation has been busy trying to ensure people in need of its services have access to fresh food.

"They were already dealing with oppression and unemployment and housing instability, and with the pandemic happening, everything is just compounded," she said. "We've been really diligent about making sure that our doors stay open, that we provide safe interactions for our staff, to continue to meet the needs of the communities that we serve."

Heart Walk attendees also can drop off last-minute donations at the event. Some of the donations AHA is asking for include canned beans and fruits, whole-wheat pasta, and more.