By Nia Simone McLeod
With Thanksgiving being right around the corner, local nonprofits around Richmond are gearing up to help families and those in need be able to enjoy a lovely holiday feast. You may associate Thanksgiving with a variety of foods including a delicious turkey and fluffy mashed potatoes, but many people around Virginia do not have that luxury. Feeding America reports that almost 900 thousand people around Virginia struggle with hunger and may not know where their next meal is coming from. One in eight of those who struggle are children. With the hunger crisis that’s currently happening in Virginia, and around the nation, holidays like Thanksgiving can cause anxiety for families and individuals alike.
Many Americans deal with food insecurity throughout the year. The terms “food insecurity” and “hunger” are often used interchangeably, but they are two distinct concepts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy life. On the other hand, hunger is the physical sensation of discomfort. Both are issues that many people deal with across the state, and across the country. The USDA reports that about 40 million Americans deal with food insecurity, including more than 12 million children. Food insecurity is a complex issue that is often caused by many different outside forces. These include low wages, proximity to fresh food, and social isolation. This makes a day like Thanksgiving a hard holiday to celebrate.
Additionally, a large portion of the food that America produces does not even get eaten. The National Resources Defense Council reports that 40% of the food America produces is wasted. This food is getting thrown in the trash and ends up in landfills all across the country. Many people are guilty of wasting food including grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, the consumers themselves. The issues of food waste, hunger, and food insecurity seem mutually exclusive, but they are all very prevalent in today’s society. Even though we have a surplus of food, it does not mean that it’s going to the millions of people around the nation that need it. But, thanks to many home-grown local organizations like The Giving Heart, many Richmonders have the chance of enjoying a great Thanksgiving meal.
The Giving Heart was founded in 2003 by Founding and Executive Director Vicki Neilson. The non-profit is dedicated to providing food, fellowship, and essential items to those in need. Each year the organization holds events spreading kindness and joy throughout the community. One of those events is their annual Thanksgiving feast. The dinner has been going on since 2005 and has been held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center since its inception. This year’s event, planned for November 22, 2018, feeds thousands of people a well-rounded Thanksgiving feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, dessert, and more. The Giving Heart partners with many different community-based companies to help make this event a reality every year including Wawa, Food Lion, and Ukrop’s.
The Giving Heart serves thousands of people throughout the Richmond community a great Thanksgiving plate. The organization makes an effort to give a helping hand to those who may be alone during the holiday season including seniors, veterans, the homeless, and the working class. This event is free to the public and is accepting of all. Also, hundreds of people volunteer at the event every year to help the organization make it a success.
Another one of The Giving Heart’s yearly events is the Secret Senior Valentine’s Bags. During the event, the organization delivers personalized gift bags to independent-living seniors throughout the Greater Richmond Metropolitan Area including toiletries and items to help them bear the cold weather.
Vicki Neilson believes that any opportunity for all of us to come together as a community is a great thing, “With Thanksgiving being a time to “give thanks”, it truly fits in with the spirit of the holiday season.”
Neilson continues, recalling her personal connection with the holiday, “My mother was often the recipient of Thanksgiving Baskets and while that was always a great gift, there was always the empty void of no one to spend the time with. So in some respects, as an adult, I honor her memory by being cognizant of realizing that fellowship is just as important as food.”
Along with food, another theme that’s synonymous with Thanksgiving is family. Through their Thanksgiving feast, The Giving Heart provides the sense of fellowship and togetherness that many people do not get often.
Andrea Tomes, a Richmonder who’s attended the event for the past three years, is excited about attending again this year, “Thanksgiving is very important to me. It’s a great opportunity to step back and think about the things that people do for one another.”
The holiday of Thanksgiving is all about expressing gratitude. During the season we often take a step back from our busy lives and give thanks to those who support us. The definition of gratitude is uniquely defined by each and every individual.
For Vicki Neilson, gratitude is a multi-layered feeling, “To know that approximately 800 people choose to volunteer for our Thanksgiving Feast is certainly a grateful moment. Even better is when so many return year after year. Gratitude is also the guests who choose to attend our feast because they are so vital to allowing us to continue making this possible.”
For Andrea Tomes, gratitude is having the opportunity to experience Thanksgiving with the Richmond community, “Not many people are willing to open up and set up something for people who have nowhere to go and no one to share the holidays with. This event is surely something to be thankful for.”
If you’re looking to donate to The Giving Heart for their Thanksgiving Feast, they’re currently looking for items such as toiletries, non-perishable foods, personal hygiene items, and more. Check out their website for more information on how to donate. The organization is also still looking for volunteers for their Thanksgiving Feast. These positions including bus ambassadors and table hosts; check here for more information.