Busch Gardens and the outreach center are testing a pilot program in which the theme park donates its surplus fresh, frozen and packaged food items to the Center. The Center, which helps people living in this small community along Route 60 just south of the theme park, will distribute the food to residents who need assistance putting food on their tables.
The Grove community is designated by the US Department of Agriculture as a food desert due to low income levels and the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods at a nearby grocery store. Food deserts contribute to food insecurity and are a principle cause of hunger in the United States.
Lindsey Mair, a buyer for Busch Gardens’ culinary department and Grove Outreach Center volunteer, is spearheading this new Busch Gardens initiative.
“Our intent is to put our surplus food to good use and not let it go to waste,” she said of the donated food that will reach its expiration date before the park opens for the 2016 season on March 20.
Mair said food donation opportunities arise throughout the year following large-scale park events or after the park’s menu transition from summer operations to Howl-O-Scream® and then Christmas Town™.
“Our largest donation of the year will likely come after Christmas Town ends and the park closes until spring, as we typically have a surplus of food that would expire within that timeframe,” Mair said.
Pat McCormick, Executive Director of the Grove Outreach Center, said approximately 14,500 food-insecure individuals live in the City of Williamsburg, James City and York counties. Specifically, the overall food insecurity rate in James City County in 2013 was 9.3 percent with an estimated 6,310 food-insecure individuals living in the community.
“It is important that residents in Grove have access to good, nutritious foods in their own community,” McCormick said.
Many Grove residents are on a fixed income or disability, or simply do not have sufficient employment income to meet all of their household needs each month. Providing food to them through structured outreach programs helps eliminate their dilemma of having to choose between paying their rent, utilities, medical bills or food, McCormick said, adding that it is critical to nonprofit organizations like the Outreach Center to have the support of individuals and businesses in the community to help meet the growing requests for food assistance.
“The food Busch Gardens is donating will enhance our ability to meet our goal of reducing hunger and food insecurity in the Grove community and to meet the food needs of the families we serve each month. We are pleased that Busch Gardens will be a community partner in helping in the fight against hunger in our community,” McCormick said.