PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Food pantries across Hampton Roads are still struggling to feed their neighbors as demand increases due to COVID-19 from laid-off and furloughed employees.
"The struggle has been real," Renyatta Banks, the Wesley Community Service Center's executive director, told News 3. "I'm thinking empty stomachs. You need food to be able to process things in your lives."
Inside this storage room, there are shelves that are half-stocked and shelves that are completely empty. The pantry's double-door refrigerator is also empty. Banks said this is the first time the pantry has faced this sort of struggle.
A local organization, Project: Life's Journey, took action to make sure the shelves get stocked with food using physical fitness called the Virtual 5K "Race in Place" fundraiser.
The concept was created to give local running and walking enthusiasts a chance to stay active while social distancing and raise money for the pantry. Participants can run, walk or take part in other physical activities indoors or outside.
"The Wesley Community Center has a special place in our hearts for the work that they do in the community," Shante Williams, Project: Life's Journey's assistant clinical director, said.
The non-profit organization was founded by Benicia Gill, a local mental health advocate and business owner. It provides counseling services, classes and seminars that focus on mental health and wellness, among other services.
Gill also sits on the board that oversees the pantry.
"So it's really just my opportunity to to kind of bring everything together in a circle and help the community and continue to be supportive," Gill said.
The 5K is the first of its kind the organization set up. Williams said there were challenges putting the event together, but the team managed to pull it off.
"We were able to reach out to an online platform that helped us to organize everything," Williams said. "Our team really rallied with social media and marketing efforts."
Gill and William said they will run outdoors with friends and family. Their desire to help brought a sense of joy and relief to Banks.
"Oh my God, I was almost in tears," Banks said. "For her to take that initiative to just embrace us and show us this love, it just means a million, a million to me."
Registration for the Virtual 5K is closed, but you can still donate to benefit the food pantry. Click here and you will be redirected to the donor page where you can donate any amount you wish.