In February, Todd Haymore, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), called on state agencies and employees, as well as citizens and other groups, to donate peanut butter to Virginia’s food banks.
Peanut butter, with its high protein content, is a staple of food banks, but shelves were nearly empty this winter because of consumers’ misconception about peanut butter’s being recalled.
On Thursday, April 2, VDACS delivered the last of the peanut butter it had collected in Richmond during March to the Central Virginia Foodbank (CVFB). The CVFB and food banks throughout the state have been receiving peanut butter as a result of the drive for a couple of weeks. With the delivery of 1,296 pounds, the CVFB has received more than 4,300 pounds.
Several other state agencies joined VDACS in the drive: the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles, Forestry, Forensic Science, Rehabilitative Services, General Services and Transportation, the State Corporation Commission and members of the Governor’s cabinet among others.
“We know people have donated thousands of pounds of peanut butter statewide,” Commissioner Haymore said, “but in all likelihood we don’t know the half of it. Many people and groups quietly collected peanut butter and other food and took it to their local food banks without fanfare. People really responded to the call, which also helped support Virginia’s peanut industry as people realized that recalled products were tied to a single Georgia processor. Our peanut producers were hit hard with the dramatic drop in purchases of peanut products, including those that had not been recalled — shelled and in-shell peanuts, for example. I believe this drive helped restore consumer confidence in Virginia’s peanut industry.”
Haymore listed a few examples that VDACS is aware of, ranging from a few jars to thousands of pounds:
• The Virginia Peanut Growers Association collected $8,000 from members and industry to purchase about 9,200 pounds of peanut butter that they delivered to food banks statewide.
• Central Laboratory staff of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science delivered 245 pounds to the Central Virginia Food Bank and members of the Governor’s Cabinet collected approximately 75 pounds which VDACS delivered April 2. General Services donated 175 pounds.
• At the VDACS animal health laboratory in Wytheville, employees of VDACS and Virginia Tech, the Department of Rehabilitative Services, New River Community College and the Department of Transportation in Wise County donated more than 200 pounds of peanut butter, along with almost 25 pounds of soup and other food.
• In Charlottesville, VDACS collected 98 jars of various sizes, with another 30 or so coming from Harrisonburg. The VDACS Tidewater office still is collecting peanut butter. They have received donations from a Master Gardener’s Club, a state prison, employees and others.
VDACS is aware of several churches, schools and other groups that have collected and distributed peanut butter statewide. “We’ll never know the full extent of this peanut butter drive,” said Haymore, “but we do know that people rallied to the cause and have stepped up their donations to food banks in all areas of the state. Hopefully these same people will continue to support their local food banks.”
According to Leslie Van Horn at the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, at the same time one food bank has seen a 141 percent increase in the number of calls to their hunger hotline, another has seen a 10 percent decrease in product donations. One reports they have purchased twice as much food this year as last year at the same time. And one reported that in the same month it brought in 1.1 million pounds, it gave out 1.2 million pounds.
“This is a critical time for our food banks,” said Haymore, “and I encourage all Virginians to continue to donate not only peanut butter, but all types of food as often as they can.”
Find more information and a list of food banks across the state at www.vafoodbanks.org.