by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
BURGESS—Feeding the needy in Northumberland County has been a mission of Gleamers and Blenders since the organization was founded nearly 30 years ago. Now the group not only feeds, it educates.
Along with distributing food to qualified recipients each month, the volunteer organization has partnered with Virginia Cooperative Extension to educate clients on nutrition, safe food handling and making healthy choices on a budget.
“It is becoming increasingly important to stock nutritious foods to improve the food security, health and well-being of limited-resource families,” said volunteer Linda Hobson. “Gleamers and Blenders volunteers were interested in providing food samples that contain local, seasonal produce participants have never tasted before.”
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Hobson and Kelly Lewis, a SNAP Ed Extension Agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, created a sweet potato and pecan casserole for tasting at the Gleamers and Blenders center on November 10. Sutherland visits the center once a month to share nutrition information with the clients. She conducts a five to ten minute presentation on food prep and safe handling tips and provides recipes to teach families how to cook and eat healthy on a budget.
There’s typically some taste-testing involved, said Gleamers and Blenders secretary April Kranda. Hobson or Sutherland will make a dish using one of the featured items that week. Clients taste the dish and are given the recipe.
“Many times its a food item many of the families haven’t eaten before,” said Kranda. “They are very engaged when she’s talking to them and they ask a lot of questions.”
The parking lot and small waiting area in the blue and yellow cinderblock Gleamers and Blenders center at 16097 Northumberland Highway near Burgess was packed last Thursday morning. Folks waited for their name and number to be called to receive a shopping cart filled with produce, canned goods, cereals, pastas, rices and a frozen turkey, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The doors open at the center at 9:45 a.m. with distribution starting at 10 a.m. and ending at noon. It’s a hectic two hours. Volunteers hustled from one station to the next, sometimes bumping into each other, hurrying to fill the carts for some 50 different families.
According to Kranda, 90 families receive grocery items each month. Distribution is held on second, third and fourth Thursdays and families are allowed one pick up per month. The office is closed on the first and fifth Thursdays.
“This is not meant to provide a month’s worth of food for a family,” she said. “It’s meant to be a supplement.”
Over the last two weeks, Gleamers and Blenders distributed 90 frozen turkeys, along with Thanksgiving fixings, including salad items, canned corn and beans, sweet potatoes and bread. An estimated $75 to $100 worth of groceries is provided to each family once a month.
“What you see going on here is not everything that’s done,” said Kranda. “There’s way more that happens during the week to get ready for Thursday.”
Included in that prep is a Wednesday evening trip to Food Lion in Heathsville, which provides items such as baked chickens, wings and baked goods that were prepared Wednesday but did not sell.
The group also partners with Food Lion’s Feed More program. Canned goods and dry food items are picked up at the Heathsville store six days a week. During the summer, fresh vegetables are donated by the Northern Neck Farm Museum. Canned goods also are purchased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Northern Neck Food Bank and donated by churches and individuals.
Gleamers and Blenders includes 15 volunteers from churches throughout Northumberland County.
Lawrence Yerby is both a volunteer and a recipient and praises the organization for its work.
“I do what I can to help,” said Yerby, who before moving to Northumberland worked with residential counseling and providing assistance to needy families in Northern Virginia.
“This is a benefit for the entire community,” he said. “This is a very valuable program. Kindness is extended to everyone that comes in and the Lord provides for those who need it.”
Families in need must meet USDA requirements for assistance based on family income versus number of family members, according to Kranda.