The Louisa County Resource Council:
Food and More for Those in Need
by Irene Luck
Louisa County is a rural community where neighbors take care of neighbors by stepping in to help each other in times of crisis. One of the organizations taking that mission to heart is the Louisa County Resource Council (LCRC), whose goal is to promote, develop, and deliver essential services to disadvantaged residents of Louisa County.
But, just what is the LCRC, and what does it really do? Its ambiguous name doesn’t hint at the vital role the organization plays in the community. The non-profit, however, truly does just what it’s name implies – it offers a myriad of resources to Louisa County citizens in need.
These resources range from food and clothing to dental and other health services. Providing food to the county’s less fortunate is the largest single activity the LCRC engages in, but there are several other critical services the organization also provides.
While most people don’t recognize the title “Louisa County Resource Council” or its overall mission, they do know the group as the “Louisa Community Cupboard” or simply the “food bank.”
On a monthly basis, the Louisa Community Cupboard provides a week’s worth of healthy groceries to over 1,200 families. A USDA-supported program, those families enrolled have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. As an example, that translates to $3,219 a month or less for family of four, just over $800 a week in gross salaries to pay for all essentials – food, clothing, rent or house payments, medical expenses, car payments, and child care.
The families enrolled in the Community Cupboard are eligible to receive non-perishable foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a variety of proteins on a monthly basis. However, not all of them come every month. They also are provided with paper products such as toilet paper or paper towels when a supply is available.
“We know that not all our clients need to visit us each month,” said Lloyd Runnett, executive director of the LCRC. “Many are living paycheck to paycheck, working seasonal or weather-dependent day laborer jobs. So, if we have a rainy or extremely dry month, they may not get paid as much. Or, if a vehicle breaks down or there is an unexpected medical emergency, they need our help with meeting their food needs.”
Seniors over 60 who fall within the 135 percent poverty level also qualify for another USDA effort, the 60+ Food Program. These food boxes contain additional non-perishable foods designed to provide another week’s worth of meals, as well as a two-pound block of cheese as an additional protein source.
For those who are experiencing a crisis situation related to food, such as an extended power outage, refrigeration failure, eviction, or sudden family changes, the LCRC operates the oldest organized feeding program in the county, the Emergency Food Pantry, supported by the ecumenical community in Louisa County. The Emergency Food Pantry was started by the late Rev. John Von Hemert in the early 1990s and morphed into what is now the LCRC, with the original emergency food source continuing to operate as a separate program of the group.
One of the largest partnership programs the LCRC participates in is the Children’s Feeding Program. Working with Louisa County Public Schools and New Life Community Church, the program assists children who are at risk of hunger when schools are not in session such as on weekends, over school holidays, and during the summer.
During the school year, kid-friendly food is packed into backpacks and sent home on Friday afternoons or the last day before a school holiday. The backpacks contain enough food for the weekend. During summer vacation, supplemental boxes are made available monthly to children and their families who, without them, may not have enough to eat when not in school.
“We know that when children are home from school during breaks, families that rely on the Free or Reduced Meals struggle to meet the additional food needs,” Runnett said. “So, we do our best to fill the gap with our Children’s Feeding Program.”
Additionally, the school system has designed a summer feeding program in which the cafeteria staff prepare hot lunches and visit numerous sites around the county to provide meals. The LCRC assists in the effort by supplying fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as snack-type foods, to supplement the lunches.
A final food program is GAP – the Grocery Assistance Program – which aids those who fall between 151 and 200 percent of the poverty level. The program is unique to Louisa County and made possible primarily because of generous donations from the Walmart Distribution Center and the Walmart Super Center located in the Zion Crossroads area. Food is also gleaned from the two Food Lion grocery stores in the county as well.
But food isn’t the only necessity the LCRC fulfills. Several years ago, the organization began a Community Closet, which allows visitors to fill a bag of gently used (and occasionally new) clothing for a nominal fee, or in some cases, free. Ranging from infant to adult clothing, outerwear, and shoes, the Community Closet is supported by donations from the community and is manned by a core of volunteers who sort and stock the closet daily.
Another longstanding LCRC partnership occurs with the University of Virginia nursing program, led by instructor Vickie Southall. Each semester, two nursing students visit the LCRC weekly to evaluate clients’ blood pressure and sugar levels and work with other health concerns.
Two years ago, the visiting nursing students were tasked with determining dental health habits in Louisa County. After extensive research, they discovered that nearly 50 percent of the county’s residents don’t visit a dentist regularly. They also learned that poor dental health can lead to other serious health problems such a poor eating habits, heart issues, repeated infections, and other similar disorders.
The LCRC took the findings to heart and developed the Dental Program, forging partnerships with area dentists who agreed to provide basic and emergency dental care up to $300 in value for the recipients. The funds to pay for the work are garnered from several grants and individual contributions. The program is managed by a committee of retired dental professionals who evaluate the applications for dental care. Emergency dental needs such as abscesses and more serious dental issues are overseen by Runnett or Cathy Portner, LCRC office manager, but require a prescription from a medical professional to be considered.
“Too often, residents will call the rescue squad when they have dental issues and can no longer stand the pain,” Runnett said. “They are transported to an emergency room where they receive pain medications and antibiotics for the infection, but that doesn’t solve the problem; it just masks it. Those doctors can now provide a Louisa County patient with a ‘prescription,’ and they can come here for emergency dental work.”
The LCRC participated in the Meals on Wheels program for several years, but the rural nature of the community and the availability of other prepared meal options caused the program to falter locally. Concerned about the loss of contact with the vulnerable senior population in the community, Runnett and Doug Smith, LCRC board member, formulated a program to have volunteers visit isolated or shut-in residents.
“We know that isolation and loneliness are contributing factors for loss of health for our seniors, mental as well as physical,” said Runnett. “We have had situations in our community where residents have passed away in their homes and there was no one who checked on them regularly so they were deceased for days before being discovered. We want to try and prevent that from happening again if we can.”
The idea was presented to the board of directors, and “Caring Connections” was born – a program matching a pair of volunteers with interested isolated seniors. The goal is to have the teams build a relationship with the senior while evaluating the living environment for unsafe situations or potential hazards and notifying others if necessary. Volunteers receive training so they know what signs to look for when visiting, the boundaries they need to set, and other parameters for the program.
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the LCRC is the Information and Referral facet. Residents and clients approach the staff daily with issues such as difficulty paying rent and electric bills, securing transportation to doctor appointments, home repairs, and other questions. Each inquiry is evaluated and, if necessary, referred to the most appropriate local or state agency for further resolution, but often the issue is handled in-house.
For example, if a senior needs additional wood to heat their home, Runnett will contact some of his local volunteers who will take the fuel to the home. Or, maybe a resident has been scammed by an unethical workman and is left in a worse situation then the original problem. Runnett and his staff can frequently step in, contact the proper authorities, and find volunteers who can rectify the situation often at no or little additional cost to the resident.
“The questions and issues are limitless and are new and different daily,” Runnett said. “But, we do our best to point the client in the right direction, help where we can, and monitor the solution if possible.”
The LCRC, with its multiple programs, is located at 147 Resource Lane off Chalklevel Road between the towns of Mineral and Louisa. It is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, and volunteers are always welcome to join the staff in any of its efforts.
For more information, contact Runnett or Portner at 540-967-1510, or send an email to email@example.com. The organization also has a Facebook page at Louisa County Resource Council and a website at www.louisaresource.org.